The Career and Prestige Award of the Mirpuri Foundation Awards Gala 2018, a Lifetime Achievement Award, went to the recognized ‘God of Dance’ Vladimir Vasiliev. For 30 years Vasiliev was the leading dancer at the internationally renowned Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, before stepping back from the stage to achieve success as a choreographer and Director of the Bolshoi.

Vladimir Vasiliev: The Greatest Dancer of All

The recipient of The Mirpuri Foundation’s Career and Prestige Award 2018  is Vladimir Vasiliev.

Born on 18 April 1940, just a year before Hitler’s tanks rolled into the Soviet Union, Vladimir Vasiliev’s love affair with dance began as a young child when he joined an amateur folk dance group in one of the Young Pioneers’ Houses in Moscow.

The Young Pioneers’ Houses were youth centres established for the creative, athletic training of young Russians and it was with this group, and now aged around seven, that Vladimir was given the opportunity to take his first tentative steps on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre stage.

At the time, Vladimir had never seen a classical ballet, but, during one of the group’s visits to the Bolshoi, he became mesmerised by a couple of young dancers from the Moscow Choreographic Academy. Immediately, Vladimir was before the mirror attempting to imitate them.

The encounter was one that would prove to be life-changing for Vladimir and set him on the road to fame, fortune and global recognition as one of the world’s very best dancers.

Urged on by his teacher at the Young Pioneers’ Dance Group, who had been quick to recognise Vladimir’s special talent, his mother enrolled him at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 1947. He graduated in 1958, when he formally joined the Bolshoi Ballet, and within a year was the Bolshoi’s leading dancer, a position he held until 1988.

During this 30-year period, Vladimir’s most famous role was probably Spartacus, in Grigorovich’s ballet of the same name. Speaking about the role later, Vladimir reflected that:

“The choice of me for the title role was unexpected. In previous versions, Spartacus was a tall man, to personify strength and superiority. I was never that tall in life. But stage is a strange thing: It can make tall men seem small and vice versa.”

“When I danced Spartacus abroad, sometimes the audience would not believe it was me when meeting the artists at the stage door, as they expected the big man I was onstage.”

As the Bolshoi’s leading dancer, over so long a period, Vladimir was recognised as a superlative performer with an immense range, possessing a rare artistic gift, charm and virtuosity.

Choosing to stay in Russia when many of his peers left for the West, Vladimir became a true hero of Soviet ballet, celebrated for his thrilling leaps, multiple pirouettes, and exhilarating bravura. He also created astounding new steps, setting a new standard for male dancers.

Vladimir has been named the best dancer in the world by the Paris Dance Academy and by the dancing magazine ‘Le Dieu de la Danse’. Russia’s influential ballet critic and choreographer, Fyodor Lopukhov, has also called him ‘the God of the Dance,’ describing him as ‘a miracle in art, perfection’.

It was at the Bolshoi, that Vladimir met his favourite partner, his inspiration, and the woman who was to become his wife, Ekaterina Maximova.

Vladimir and Ekaterina, both principal dancers, were the dream couple of the Bolshoi. They were first paired as classmates in 1949, and, as their love blossomed, they married in 1961.

The great male dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, famously paid tribute to the couple, saying Maximova, with her ‘elegant build, beauty, virtuosity and even more so her spontaneity and sincerity’, was treated like a ‘rare treasure’ by the indomitable Vasiliev. This, he said, gave their performances an almost sacred aura, to which audiences gratefully responded.

In 2008, the Bolshoi hosted a week-long festival dedicated to Maximova and Vasiliev’s 50-years on the Bolshoi stage, during which Vladimir commented that the secret of partnering was “the man must not get in the way of the woman – she is the most important person on stage.”

He added that, all his life, his wife had been his inspiration for two qualities: her beauty and her capacity for hard work. Their marriage lasted for a golden 50 years, until Ekaterina sadly passed away in 2009.

In March 1995, Vladimir was appointed the General and Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Theatre. In this role, Vladimir spearheaded many successful projects, including the Bolshoi and Paris Opera Ballet, the first-ever New Year Ball at the Bolshoi, and foundation of the International Club of the Bolshoi Friends.

Since leaving this post in 2000, Vladimir has been in great demand as a guest choreographer, actor, artist and chairman of many prestigious ballet competitions.

He is the founder and trustee of the Bolshoi Ballet School in Brazil, president of the Galina Ulanova Foundation, member of the Russian Art Academy, and the International Academy of Creative Arts, as well as being an Honorary Professor of the Moscow State University.

He has received the highest state awards of the former USSR and Russia, prestigious orders and medals from France, Japan, Italy, USA, Brazil, Argentina, Lithuania and Cuba, and a special award from UNESCO.

Vladimir’s most recent award, the Commendatore del’Ordine della Stella d’Italia, was given to Vladimir personally by the Italian President.