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Prominent Russians: Ekaterina Maksimova

February 1, 1939 – April 28, 2009
Ekaterina Maksimova Ekaterina Maksimova

Ekaterina Maksimova was a world-famous Soviet and Russian ballet dancer. She is known not only for her talent, but also for her will to dance; even a serious spinal injury could not make her leave the stage.

Maksimova was born in Moscow. As a child, she was not sure about her future profession: she wanted to be a firefighter, a tramway conductor, or ‘maybe’ a ballet-dancer. When she was ten, her mother helped her make the right choice, and Ekaterina was accepted into the Moscow State Choreography School. It was a prestigious school, and to be accepted there without any connections or string-pulling seemed impossible for the majority of entrants.

Ekaterina's talent showed itself quite soon. Only after several months of studying, she began to perform in the Bolshoi Theater. At first she was playing children's roles in the opera, until she received her first small part in the ballet Cinderella: she played a bird from the fairy's suite. Her path to world fame began in 1957, when she won first prize at the all-USSR youth festival for dancing the part of the Princess from The Nutcracker. At the same time, Maksimova’s grades in general subjects were poor. Once she was even expelled for a quarrel with her math teacher, but in ten days the school took her back.

Among her classmates there was a boy named Vladimir Vasiliev. She was nine and he was ten, when they were to dance as a pair for the first time. Their “cooperation" became friendship, which turned into love, when they were in their teens.

Ekaterina Maksimova Ekaterina Maksimova

In 1959, the Bolshoi Theater troupe went on tour to the USA. Maksimova danced on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. The ballet critics and journalists called the miniature and graceful ballerina "a little elf". Next year, Maksimova won a golden medal at the World Youth Festival in Vienna.

In 1961, Vasiliev and Maksimova got married and right after the wedding left for Paris with a group of officials as part of the Soviet movie The Openhearted USSR filming in France. In this movie, Maksimova and Vasiliev played a young couple of dancers. In those days, the iron curtain was still very hard to penetrate, so they were the first newlyweds in the USSR who were allowed to spend their honeymoon in the “City of Love”.

During the 1960’s, Maksimova and her husband, danced in many ballets together staged by the famous ballet-master Yury Grigorovich. Their performance in Don Quixote in 1965 brought them the unofficial title of “best romantic duet”. The ballet dancer Raisa Struchkova wrote about them, “It is amusing that the meeting of two stars of such magnitude was not fatal for one of them. The harmony of these great talents gave birth to a unique art phenomenon which is unequalled anywhere in the world”.

Ekaterina Maksimova and Vladimir Vasiliev Ekaterina Maksimova and Vladimir Vasiliev

Europe, Asia and North America applauded Maksimova dancing the role of Maria in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, Frigia in Spartacus, and Joan in The Flames of Paris. "She dances love, but the love born of the earth”, wrote journalist Tatyana Kostygova about Maksimova’s performances.

But tragedy occurred in 1975. While at rehearsal for the ballet Ivan the Terrible, Maksimova injured her spine. The doctors were sure not only that she would never dance again, but also that she would never get out of a wheelchair.

It took Maksimova a year to disprove the medial prognoses. There were no miracles; only a special corset, hours and hours of exercising, a supportive husband, and a strong will. On March 10, 1976, Maksimova danced in Giselle. The same year, Vasiilev staged the ballet Ikarus especially for her. 

This experience made Maksimova reconsider her world view and affected her work. The joyful and lighthearted characters she used to play became more thoughtful and serious in her interpretation. Naivety was replaced by deepness and wisdom.

“Sometimes, when there are many performances, when you are really tired and your whole body hurts, you stand behind the curtains thinking 'Oh God, how am I going to dance? I can't do anything!'. And then the music starts, and you fly up the stage, and forget about your pain, forget about your troubles. You forget about everything.", told Maksimova in one of her interviews. By her own life she proved that doing what you love and following your vocation can be a cure of almost magical power.

m Ekaterina Maksimova and Vladimir Vasiliev

In 1978 Maksimova began to work with foreign troupes: The 20th Century Ballet from Belgium, the Italian St. Carlos Theater, the Marseilles Ballet from France. She danced in several ballets staged by Maurice Béjart. When in the early 1980’s she went on tour to the USA again with the Moscow Classic Ballet ensemble, people often asked “Is this the daughter of that Maksimova, who used to dance in Bolshoi Theater?”

In those days ballet-masters were working hard to make ballet more popular. To achieve thier goal, they turned to television. Maksimova and Vasiliev also tried screen ballets. TV helped Maksimova to discover and to develop her dramatic talents. In her first screen ballet, Trapeze, she played a comical role, while in The Old Tango and The Ballad of Hussars she appeared in a tragic one.

In 1980 Maksimova graduated from The Russian Academy of Theater Arts institute with the diploma of ballet instructor. She started teaching in the Russian Academy of Theater Arts in 1982, and in 1990, after abandoning her stage career, became the tutor of the Kremlin Palace of Congress Ballet.

Maksimova won tens of awards and was famous enough to be recognized by bypassers in the streets, but had never called herself a great ballerina: she preferred the words "hard-working" and "ambitious”. She had never praised herself, but always praised her friends, colleagues, and teachers.

She died in her sleep, at the age of 70, the day before the International Day of Dancing.

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