Ballerina Lepeshinskaya Dead at 92

Olga Lepeshinskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet's prima ballerina for three decades during the Soviet times, has died at the age of 92.

Natalia Uvarova, a spokeswoman for the Culture Ministry, said Lepeshinskaya died Saturday of an unspecified illness. Itar-Tass reported that Lepeshinskaya died in her Moscow apartment in her sleep.

Lepeshinskaya was born to a noble family in Kiev in 1916. When she first tried to enter the Bolshoi choreographic school, she was rejected.

The school admitted her shortly afterward, in 1925, and Lepeshinskaya graduated in 1933, immediately joining the Bolshoi Ballet. She was rumored to be the favorite ballerina of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and received the coveted Stalin Prize on four occasions.

Lepeshinskaya recalled in an interview published in the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta in 2006 that Stalin once affectionately called her "dragonfly."

As Bolshoi's prima, Lepeshinskaya danced Kitri in "Don Quixote" and Tao Hoa in "The Red Poppy," among other parts. She said Kitri, first performed in 1940, was her first big success and she was so eager to dance that she asked her friends to hold her offstage so that she would not enter ahead of time.

During World War II, Lepeshinskaya participated in the Bolshoi's traveling company, which performed before Red Army soldiers on the front line.

She recalled in the 2006 interview that she broke her leg during the first performance of "The Red Poppy" in 1953, but managed to complete her part despite four fractures diagnosed later.

Lepeshinskaya married Soviet General Alexei Antonov in 1956. In 1962, when her husband died, she temporarily lost her sight. "During the funeral, I had a nervous breakdown and everything went black before my eyes," she recalled in the interview.

In 1963, Lepeshinskaya left the Bolshoi Ballet and turned to teaching, spending several years in East Germany before returning to the Soviet Union.

She will be buried Tuesday in Moscow's Vvedenskoye Cemetery.