Sulamith Messerer

Inspirational ballet teacher

The Soviet ballerina Sulamith Messerer became one of the world's great ballet teachers.

Sulamith Michailovna Messerer, ballet dancer and teacher: born Moscow 27 August 1908; OBE 2000; (one son); died London 3 June 2004.

The Soviet ballerina Sulamith Messerer became one of the world's great ballet teachers.

She was born in Moscow in 1908 and trained at the Bolshoi School in Moscow from 1920, joining their company in 1926. She seemed to have a photographic memory for choreography; soon after she joined the Bolshoi as a member of the corps de ballet, the soloist scheduled to dance the pas de trois in Swan Lake was taken ill in rehearsal and Messerer immediately stepped in to dance the whole variation.

Within three years, she was dancing leading roles in the repertoire, her first ballerina role in 1929 being Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée. Kitri, the leading female role in Petipa's classic ballet Don Quixote, was her favourite and perhaps best role, although she was also highly regarded as Zarema in the Soviet classic The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.

In 1933, with her famous brother Asaf as a partner, she was the first Soviet ballerina to tour the West, visiting Scandinavia, France and Germany. Her performance career lasted about 25 years. She brought to her dancing a vitality, attack and tautness of line, said a 1940s critic, combined with a humorous personality and a wiry athletic physique.

After her elder sister was sent to the Gulag in the 1930s, Messerer refused to send her niece to an orphanage and brought her up - the future ballerina Maya Plisetskaya - herself.

All great ballet teachers have the work passed down to them from the masters of the past, and Messerer was no exception. Her teacher at the Bolshoi was Vasily Tikhomirov, a pupil of Christian Johansson, one of the main architects of the Russian school. Elizaveta Gert, the pupil and daughter of Pavel Gert, the great dancer of the Imperial Russian Ballet on whom Petipa created so many roles, also taught her and persuaded her to teach, so Messerer had an impeccable lineage.

"Madame Messerer", as she was fondly known in the ballet world, began her teaching career in 1938 at the Bolshoi before she retired from dancing. At one time or another she taught most of the great ballet dancers in the world. She defected in Japan, coming to live in the West in 1980, and, although teaching internationally, she made her home in London where she never failed to inspire with her dark eyes full of light and joy.

Messerer had been for four years the All Russian Champion Swimmer, and continued to swim daily well into her nineties. There can be few people in the world who have had the distinction of holding, as she did, the triple honours of a Principal People's Artist of the Soviet Union, the Lenin Gold Medal and appointment as OBE.

Her son, Mikhail Messerer, is a guest teacher for the Royal Ballet.

Gavin Roebuck

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower