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Russian Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya Dies at 89

FILE - Russian ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya smiles at a presentation ceremony of state awards in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 31, 2011.

Renowned Russian Maya Plisetskaya, one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, died Saturday in Germany of an apparent heart attack. She was 89.

Russia’s official Tass news agency quoted Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin as saying “the doctors tried everything, but there was nothing they could do.” He spoke after conferring with Plisetskaya’s husband, acclaimed Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, in Munich.

Known as a supreme technical and dramatic performer, Plisetskaya was a mainstay in Russia’s premier ballet for more than five decades, becoming the Bolshoi’s prima ballerina in 1960. She retired as a soloist in 1990 at age 65.

Born into a prominent Russian-Jewish family, Plisetskaya at age 12 last saw her father, who was arrested in 1937 and shot to death a year later, a victim of Josef Stalin’s purges. She later wrote that she didn't learn the date of his death until 1989. Her mother was accused of treason and sent to a labor camp in Kazakhstan, leaving the teenage prodigy to be raised by relatives.

Plisetskaya in 1983 became one of the first Soviet celebrities permitted to work for a Western dance company without having to defect, when she became the artistic director of the Rome Opera Ballet.

After retirement, she moved with her husband to Munich in 1991 and later worked as a ballet director and choreographer, teaching master classes around the world.