Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bolshoi's Bessmertnova Dies at Age 66

Natalia Bessmertnova, a Soviet-era prima ballerina who danced with the Bolshoi Ballet for decades, died Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the ballet said. She was 66.

Bessmertnova died at a Moscow hospital after suffering from a grave illness, Yekaterina Novikova said, but she would not specify the cause of death. Russian media reported that Bessmertnova had kidney trouble.

Bessmertnova was a top dancer at the Bolshoi from 1961 until 1995, the year she and other performers staged a one-night strike after the ballet's longtime artistic director Yuri Grigorovich, her husband, quit during a dispute with management amid plans for his replacement.

Their refusal to perform "Romeo and Juliet" prompted the first cancellation in the ballet's history of more than two centuries.

In addition to Juliet, Bessmertnova also danced the leading female roles "Giselle," "Ivan the Terrible," "The Angara" and "The Golden Age."

Bolshoi director Anatoly Iksanov called Bessmertnova's death "a huge loss for the Bolshoi Theater and to our whole culture," the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

The dancer was "the pride and glory of the company to which she devoted her entire life," he was quoted as saying.

"The Bolshoi Theater mourns the death of the outstanding ballerina, one of the world's most celebrated Giselles," the theater said on its Web site.

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