I have to confess to shedding a tear at the news of the death of Natalia Bessmertnova, one of the true stars of the ballet firmament and a dancer of very special gifts. Although most famous for her roles in Giselle and Swan Lake, she was also the inspiration for the female leads in most of her husband Yuri Grigorovich’s ballets. In a way she became a little type cast as her soulful face was perfect for tragic ballets but I still remember her as one of the best Kitris I ever saw; with her soaring jump and dark, almost Spanish looks she was perfect for the role.
Bessmertnova forged a wonderful partnership with her contemporary, Mikhail Lavrovsky, a very forceful dancer with a powerful technique. They formed a contrast rather like Fonteyn and Nureyev but still complemented one another perfectly, her later partner, Mukhamedov, lacked Lavrovsky’s innate elegance, but was considered at the time the most suitable male dancer for Grigorovich’s male roles.
Quite a number of recordings of Bessmertnova’s performances exist, the bulk of them were made in the late 1980’s when her technique was slipping a little, however there are at least two earlier recordings of Giselle and Romeo & Juliet (both with Mikhail Lavrovsky) that show her at her very best.
Natalia Bessmertnova was a descendent of Russia’s national poet, Alexander Pushkin and clearly inherited her ancestor’s gift of poetry as few dancers were capably of such poetic and at times almost unearthly dancing as Bessmertova, whether as Juliet, Giselle or Phrygia she elevated all the characters she portrayed to a higher plane.
In English Bessmertnova’s name means literally: ‘without death’, in other words her surname means immortal. For me, no name was ever as apt.