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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ballet Legend Bessmertnova Dead at 66

Itar-TassBallerina Natalya Bessmertnova performing with Nikolai Fadeyechev in the Bolshoi Theater on May 23, 1967.
Natalya Bessmertnova, a Soviet-era prima ballerina who danced with the Bolshoi Ballet for decades, died Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the ballet said. She was 66.

Bessmertnova died at a Moscow hospital after suffering from a grave illness, Yekaterina Novikova said, but she would not specify the cause of death. National media reported that Bessmertnova had kidney trouble.

Bessmertnova was a top dancer at the Bolshoi from 1961 until 1995, the year she and other performers staged a one-night strike after the ballet's longtime artistic director Yury Grigorovich, her husband, quit during a dispute with management.

Their refusal to perform "Romeo and Juliet" prompted the first cancellation in the ballet's more than two-century history.

In addition to Juliet, Bessmertnova also danced the leading female roles in "Giselle," "Ivan the Terrible," "The Angara" and "The Golden Age."

Bolshoi director Anatoly Iksanov called Bessmertnova's death "a huge loss for the Bolshoi Theater and to our whole culture," Itar-Tass reported.

The dancer was "the pride and glory of the company to which she devoted her entire life," Iksanov was quoted as saying.

"The Bolshoi Theater mourns the death of an outstanding ballerina, one of the world's most celebrated Giselles," the theater said on its web site.

Bessmertnova was born in Moscow to a doctor and a homemaker. She showed an early interest in dance and soon displayed talent to match, joining the Bolshoi immediately after graduating from the theater's developmental school.

She was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1976 and was a laureate of the Soviet Union's Lenin Prize and State Prize.

She was a gold medalist at the prestigious Varna International Ballet Competition in 1965 and was awarded France's Pavlova Prize in 1970.

In recent years Bessmertnova had worked with Grigorovich on projects such as the Benois de la Danse Prize, for which he served as jury chairman.

A funeral service, open to the public, will be held Friday at the Bolshoi, the theater said.