Maris Liepa, the handsome, virile star of the Bolshoi Ballet known particularly for his performance as Marcus Crassus, the Roman despot in “Spartacus,” is dead of a heart attack.
His son, Andris, who is on tour with the American Ballet Theater in California, said his father died Saturday in Moscow. He was 52.
(The Soviet news agency Tass reported the death Tuesday.)
Liepa was originally a vocal student at the Riga Theater of Opera and Ballet in Latvia but began to attend dancing classes at the theater’s choreographic institute. He moved to Moscow in 1953 but returned to Riga for his ballet debut.
From 1956 to 1960 he performed with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater in the Moscow productions of “Le Corsaire,” “Scherezade” and “Esmeralda.”
With the Bolshoi from 1960, Liepa created the role of Crassus in Yuri Grigorovich’s popular 1968 version of the “Spartacus” legend based on the score by Aram Khachaturian. His performance as the incarnation of evil was so widely praised that afterward Liepa was adjudged a co-star of the ballet.
Liepa also danced leading roles in “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Raymonda,” “Les Sylphides,” “Don Quixote” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
In one of his three books, “Yesterday and Today in Ballet,” Liepa wrote: “We give all our physical and spiritual powers so that our art, transformed into ourselves, would influence people’s hearts and minds.”
Twenty-six years ago, Liepa, known for his looks as well as his talent, began teaching ballet, and this year he worked on setting up his own ballet troupe.
His daughter, Ilze, is also a dancer.
In 1970, Liepa, who also performed as an actor in several Soviet films, was awarded the Lenin Prize, the Soviet government’s highest award, for his interpretation of Crassus.