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Olga Lepeshinskaya, 92; Bolshoi Prima Ballerina

Olga Lepeshinskaya, shown in 1985, danced for 30 years with the Bolshoi Ballet during Soviet times. She was rumored to be Stalin's favorite ballerina.
Olga Lepeshinskaya, shown in 1985, danced for 30 years with the Bolshoi Ballet during Soviet times. She was rumored to be Stalin's favorite ballerina. (By Alexander Makarov -- Associated Press)
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Associated Press
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Olga Lepeshinskaya, 92, the Bolshoi Ballet's prima ballerina for three decades during the Soviet era, died Dec. 20 at her home in Moscow. The cause of death was not reported.

Ms. Lepeshinskaya was born to a noble family in Kiev and was rejected by the Bolshoi choreographic school when she first applied as a girl. The school admitted her in 1925, and she joined the Bolshoi in 1933.

She was rumored to be the favorite ballerina of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and received the coveted Stalin Prize on four occasions. Ms. Lepeshinskaya recalled in an interview in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2006 that Stalin once affectionately called her "dragonfly."

As the Bolshoi's prima ballerina, Ms. Lepeshinskaya was famed for dancing the roles of Kitri in "Don Quixote," Tao Hoa in "The Red Poppy," Jeanne in "The Flame of Paris," Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty" and Masha in "The Nutcracker," among other parts.

During World War II, she was a member of the Bolshoi's traveling company, which performed before Red Army soldiers on the front lines.

She recalled in the 2006 interview that she broke her leg during the first performance of "The Red Poppy" in 1953, but managed to complete her part despite four fractures diagnosed later.

Ms. Lepeshinskaya married Soviet general Alexei Antonov in 1956. In 1962, when her husband died, she temporarily lost her sight.

"During the funerals, I had a nervous breakdown and everything went black before my eyes," she said.

In 1963, she left the Bolshoi Ballet and turned to teaching, spending several years in East Germany before returning to the Soviet Union.

The Bolshoi's current prima ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova, said dancers today would find it impossible to match Ms. Lepeshinskaya's fiery manner.


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