The Carmen-Suite: Maya Plisetskaya Challenging Soviet Culture and Policy



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On April 20 1967, the Carmen-Suite ballet, starring Maya Plisetskaya in the leading role, premiered in Moscow?s Bolshoi Ballet Theatre. The production was immediately banned by the Soviet Ministry of Culture for perceived violations of classical ballet canons. In a unique case of artistic resistance within the Soviet system of production, Plisetskaya negotiated the ballet?s return to the stage. Following the initial scandal, performance ban and a media blackout, the Carmen-Suite was subsequently reintegrated into Soviet repertoire and projected as a symbol of Soviet creativity and innovation. The history and legacy of the Carmen-Suite serves as a unique instance of successful artistic resistance within a framework of a repressive political system.

In my archival study I examine the unique role of Maya Plisetskaya as a Soviet cultural actor. I argue that her role in the production, premiere and legacy of Carmen- Suite may serve as a proxy for insight into the undercurrents of Cold War and post-Cold War politics in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia. The evolution of Carmen-Suite from a symbol of protest to an integral part of the established cultural system illustrates both political protest on the part of its creators and artistic repossession on the part of the authorities. The incident is revealing of long-term processes of ballet exploitation and adaptation within the field of power. Today, as the United States enters a period of strained relationship with Russia, which many have described as a dawn of the second Cold War, research into the artistic, cultural and political significance of the 1967 Carmen-Suite may be of particular significance.