The Ballerina

The Ballerina

 
By Melissa Tawn
 
What wouldn't a ballet dancer be willing to do to become prima ballerina of the Kirov ballet?


 
 

CHAPTER 1: A STAR IS BORN

In the communist Soviet Union of the 1970’s, as in the imperialist Britain of the 1870’s, family lineage was an important factor in a person’s success. Vladimir Ivanovich Nekrasov therefore considered himself extremely lucky, for few Soviet citizens had a better lineage than he did. His grandfather, Colonel-General Alexander Michaelovich Nekrasov, died valiantly in the heroic defense of Stalingrad during the Great Patriotic War against the Nazi invaders. The eulogy at his state funeral was delivered in person by Comrade Stalin, and he was declared a posthumous Martyr of the Soviet Union. Vladimir’s father, Academician Ivan Alexandrovich Nekrasov, was awarded the Order of Lenin for his brilliant publications in theoretical physics and, more importantly, for his equally brilliant secret work on the next generation of Soviet nuclear weapons. Academician Nekrasov’s untimely death in a small-plane crash not far from Novosibirsk was officially listed as an accident due to bad weather, but was generally believed, among those in the know, to have been a “wet job” by the CIA. Vladimir’s mother, Yelena Petrovna Nekrasova, was a rising power in the Party and the Government who at one point held the position of Deputy Minister of Culture and the Arts.

Vladimir, himself, had different interests. As a young boy, he was rather hyperactive and showed a great affinity for music, so his parents decided to send him, at the age of 7, to ballet school. (In the Soviet Union, ballet was a very respectable occupation for boys as well as girls, and premier male ballet dancers were held in the same respect as star football players.) In this field, he showed unusual talent and, by the time he had finished his secondary schooling, he had appeared in several all-Union dance troupes and was well on his way to a career as a professional dancer. Indeed, upon graduation he was offered a position with Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet, second only to Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet (with its rabid fans maintaining, of course, that it is better than the Bolshoi). Of course, the fact that Vladimir’s mother was, among other things, in charge of allocating funds to various ballet companies may have had something to do with their decision to select him, but then again that may just be a malicious rumor spread by other companies.

The Kirov Ballet operated four distinct dance companies. Company A was the premier company, composed of the best dancers. They appeared in major cities in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact bloc, and were sometimes allowed to travel abroad for (very lucrative) appearances at dance festivals around the world. Company B traveled to major provincial cities such as Minsk or Novosibirsk (usually augmented by one or two of the stars from Company A) and served as a source of backups for Company A. Company C traveled to more minor provincial cities, from Gomel to Irkutsk. All newcomers were first assigned to Company C, where their skills were tested. Company D was composed of fading stars who could no longer handle a full program of dancing. They were usually sent, individually or in pairs, to appear at ballet schools around the country, giving pep talks and mainly acting as talent scouts, trying to spot the dancers of the future.

Vladimir, like all newcomers, began with Company C, and there he seemed to be stuck. While everybody acknowledged that he was a talented dancer, with a very good grasp of technique and theory, as well as deep insight and ability to improvise, it was also clear that he was not physically strong enough to perform the daring leaps demanded of Soviet male ballet stars, nor could he even hold a ballerina over his head for more than a few seconds. Still, everybody liked him and there was no question of releasing him from the Kirov (he was Deputy Minister Nekrasova’s son, after all!). To be fair, he soon realized that he would never be a Company A star, and accepted his role. He spent a lot of time with the choreographers, helping them work out ideas and helping coach other dancers — both male and female — to get ready for their parts. Soon, he had found his niche and even after his mother’s untimely death from cancer, continued without any problems. He figured that he had about four or five dancing years left, and then he would try to go into choreography.

The change in Vladimir’s life came one February when the company arrived in Vladivostok for two performances. They were going to try out a new ballet, which Vladimir had helped choreograph and which he was very excited about. In order to be at their physical best and recover from the considerable difference between Leningrad time and Vladivostok time, the company arrived in Vladivostok a week ahead of time and arranged to use the facilities of a local ballet school for practice. However, these facilities were not the best and on the first day there, during one of the run-throughs, Olga Pashkova, the lead dancer, slipped and twisted her ankle. Since the work was new and she had no understudy, it seemed clear that the performance would have to be cancelled.

Tatyana Feliksovna Kostochko, administrative director of Company C and a prima ballerina with the Kirov in her youth, called an emergency meeting of the company to decide what to do. Cancelling a performance, especially one which had been sold out for months, was a very serious thing to do, and would have definite repercussions when they returned. The Kirov had a long “the show must go on” tradition, which she felt should be upheld at all costs. She outlined the situation, and then turned to Vladimir. “You are the only person here who knows that role, Vladimir. You coached Olga personally. You are also of Olga’s height and build. I want to ask you to do a big favor to the company and dance the role in her place.” Vladimir was stunned. He immediately replied that he could hardly be mistaken for a ballerina, but Tatyana disagreed — “You will be in heavy makeup anyway, and the stage is big. Nobody in the audience will see you that closely. Moreover, we are very far away from Leningrad. Nobody is going to hear about this outside this company. “ (And here she gave the rest of the company one of her patented “anybody who leaks a word about this will spend the next 20 years working in the uranium mines without a helmet” look.) “But”, Vladimir objected, “they will surely know that I am not Olga. You can’t very well put in the program that the Vladimir Nekrasov will be dancing in place of Olga Pashkova. We will be laughed at.” “Of course, you are right,” said Tatyana, “and therefore we are going to create a fictitious dancer, let’s call her Vera Ivanova Tertiak, and you are going to be her. Until we leave Vladivostok, you are going to have to turn yourself into this person, and be her on stage and off. Please, Vladimir, do it. It will save the company’s reputation.”

Vladimir hesitated and did not know what to answer, but Olga herself came up to him on her crutches, and kissed him on the forehead. “Please, Vlad, we really need you.” Finally, he lowered his eyes and meekly said “OK”. Everybody cheered and Olga volunteered to help make “Vera” ready by lending Vladimir some of her clothes and going shopping with him for the rest (paid for, of course, from one of Tatyana’s secret slush funds).

The next days were very hectic. For several hours, Vera (we shall now call her that, as everyone else did, even the other male dancers) practiced her role, getting used to wearing Olga’s costume. Then, after practice, she learned the role of a woman. Fortunately, as a dancer she was used to wearing a gaff. It was easy for her to adopt a woman’s deportment and body language, and she had surprisingly little trouble getting used to low heels (dancers never wear high-heel shoes since their feet tend to get muscular and gnarled by constant practice so that high-heeled shoes do not fit them well) and dresses. It was harder for her to get used to talking in a feminine gender (the Russian language has distinct masculine and feminine noun and verb forms), to learn to give a female inflection to her voice, and to become proficient in the thousand and one other tricks of passing one’s self off as a woman. The company’s prop manager succeeded in finding a flattering wig and a pair of breast forms for her, which she glued into place so that they would not dislodge while she was dancing. Of course, she moved out of the hotel room she had shared with another male dancer, and moved in with Olga, who treated her just like any other female friend.

What went on in Vera’s mind during all of this was, to say the least, turbulent, but she kept on repeating to herself that it was only for a few more days. Back in Leningrad, everything will be back to normal.

The first performance went well. Vera received a standing ovation and nobody seemed to have noticed anything unusual about her, either during the dance or afterwards, at the reception for local VIP’s in the lobby. True, she had been very tense during it all, and left the reception early, saying that she needed her sleep for the morrow’s performance.

The second performance was spectacular. Vera now felt very much at ease in her role. Now only did she perform flawlessly, she also dared some improvisations and unusual steps which, three times, brought the audience to its feet in the middle of a solo. She had eight encores, and the audience would not be satisfied until she did a small “bashful girl with a mirror” solo from another work in progress that the Kirov had commissioned but had not yet performed. It brought down the house.

That night, lying in her bed, Vera was very happy, but at the same time glad that it was all over. Tomorrow, before they left for the airport, she would revert to being Vladimir, or so she thought.

Unfortunately, Vera had not reckoned with the fact that Simyon Yakubovich Bernshtein, himself, had been in the audience. For ten years, Simyon Yakubovich had been the highly-feared chief theater and ballet critic of Pravda, whose biting words could make or break reputations and careers. After that period, and after the death of his beloved wife, he seemed to mellow and resigned that position in favor of writing a column, called “The Whole Union is a Stage”. The format of his writing was very simple: he would travel to some provincial locality and wander around, treating everything that he saw as one big theatrical performance put on for his benefit. He would then write a “review” of that performance for his column. His erudition, wit, and insight made him one of the most popular writers in the Soviet Union and since he praised honest workmen and courteous civil servants as frequently as he scolded bumbling apparatchiks, he was considered politically correct and was bothered neither by the state nor the KGB. As fate would have it, he was in Vladivostok on the night on Vera’s second performance, and had attended it, intending to write a humorous piece about provincial bumpkins raving about third-tier dancers. Instead, he found himself writing something else.

The next morning, when Vera came down to breakfast, Tatyana called her over to her table. “Comrade Tertiak,” she smiled, “we have a problem.” On the table before her was the Vladivostok issue of Pravda (which, because of the time differences, appeared several hours before the Leningrad issue would be published), and she pointed out Simyon Yakubovich’s column, in it’s regular place at the top page 2.

“Last night, in Vladivostok, this critic witnessed a miracle. The Kirov Ballet’s C-company showed off a new dancer, Vera Ivanova Tertiak, so new to the company that she is not even listed on the official roster of Kirov dancers, in a work which has never been performed in a major city before. I cannot say that I had great expectations for what was to follow, but what ensued was nothing less than a miracle in dance. Comrade Tertiak is, without any doubt, the most talented, most brilliant dancer in the Soviet Union, now or during the past thirty years. She is probably the most talented dancer we have ever produced since the days of the legendary Anna Pavlova and Olga Preobrazhenskaya. Her talent, her poise, her innovation, and her sparkle transported me, and all those in the audience with more aesthetic sense than a walrus, into an artistic garden of delights which we are likely never to see again.

(here he goes on to praise Vera in extravagant language for several more paragraphs)

Why has the Kirov Ballet been hiding this great light? Are we to believe that they assigned her to Company C because they are incapable of recognizing genius when it hits them in the face? We hope, no, we DEMAND, that she immediately be promoted to Company A, and appear in the major cities of our Union, to delight us all.”

Vera blanched. “Yes,” she said meekly, “we do have a problem.” Apparently, a preliminary copy of the column had been telegraphed to Oleg Stefanovich Shapeev, the director of the Kirov Ballet, in the hope of eliciting a comment. He, in turn, telephoned Tatyana at 4 o’clock in the morning, demanding to know who the hell this Vera Tertiak is, and why didn’t he know about her. “We — you and I — have an appointment with him as soon as our plane lands in Leningrad,” she said. “But I am flying back as Vladimir”, said Vera. “No, comrade, I am afraid you aren’t.” replied Tatyana. “You will have to be Vera until comrade Shapeev makes his decision.”

By the time the company reached the airport, everyone had read Bernshtein’s column and it was more or less the consensus of the company that Vera had deserved all of the praise he had given her. Still, they were a bit shocked that Vera, and not Vladimir, showed up in the lobby waiting for the bus. Tatyana gathered everyone around and informed them that Vera would be around for a few more days, and that they were to remember that certain secrets are not to be talked about under any circumstances. At the airport, as they were waiting for their flight, it was Vera who was approached several times by groups teenage girls asking for her autograph (which she gladly granted) and by at least two boys asking for a kiss (which she also granted). Olga, still on crutches, was constantly at her side and if she was jealous, she definitely didn’t show it. Vera, needless to say, was very nervous. “Passing” as a ballerina in far-off Vladivostok is one thing. Doing it in the sophisticated city of Leningrad, where Vladimir Nekrasov was well-known, is quite something else.

During the flight, Tatyana asked Vera to sit next to her. “Comrade,” she said, “I am going to be very blunt with you. What you decide when we reach Leningrad, is up to you alone. You can revert to being Vladimir, a competent-but-not-great dancer, and nobody will blame you. The artistic meteor Vera Tertiak will disappear from the skies as suddenly as she appeared and, within a year, will probably be forgotten. Comrade Bernshtein will probably decide he had had too much vodka to drink that evening, and never refer to you again. Or … if you dare … you can become the prima ballerina of the Kirov Ballet, and carve a niche for yourself in the history of Soviet artistic achievement. The column was right, you know. You gave an extraordinary performance, one which I too have never seen. All of the instincts and moves which seem only mediocre when performed by a man, somehow came together amazingly when danced by a woman, creating a whole new dimension of dance.

Can I ask you a personal question?”

Vera nodded dumbly, and she continued. “I know you are not married, and I have never seen you flirt with the women of the company. Are you more attracted to men?” Vera blushed but did not answer. Homosexuality, in the Soviet Union, was a criminal offense. “Relax, comrade,” said Tatyana. “if you did not know that I am particularly attracted to young female dancers, then you are the only one in the company who doesn’t.” “Anton Markovich and I, …,” Vera stammered, naming one of the other male dancers. “Think of this, comrade,” Tatyana replied, “Vladimir Ivanovich and Anton Markovich are criminals when they are together. But nobody could find any fault with Vera Ivanova and Anton Markovich being openly in love, or living together. Indeed, one of the perks of being a prima ballerina is that you are entitled to quite a big apartment, paid for and maintained by the Kirov Ballet.”

“I could never pull it off,” said Vera, “it is just too difficult.” “No it isn’t, comrade.” You make a beautiful woman. I watched you at the airport with all of those autograph seekers around you. Just act naturally, and everything will come easy to you.”

Nonetheless, Vera worried all of the flight. She couldn’t sleep and horrid scenarios kept on running through her head. Still, she had enough presence of mind to pull herself together an hour before they reached Leningrad, and to go to the washroom to reapply her makeup, as Olga had taught her. On the way back to her seat, she stopped to talk to Olga (who was given an aisle seat because of her crutches) and worriedly asked if she looked OK. “You are wonderful, Vera.” Olga replied. “Your beauty is as radiant as your dancing.”

CHAPTER 2: PRIMA BALLERINA

The return of Kirov’s Company C to Leningrad is not usually considered newsworthy, and the dancers were used to waiting in line for their suitcases like everyone else and then going home individually with no fanfare. They were very surprised to find that, when they deplaned, there were at least a dozen reporters at the airport, all primed to photograph the new dancing sensation Vera Tertiak. Director Shapeev personally appeared to welcome them back to the city, and escorted Tatyana and Vera to a waiting limo, assuring them that their baggage will be taken care of. Tatyana told him that Vladimir Nekrasov had missed the plane, and asked that his suitcase also be retrieved and stored somewhere until he could claim it.

On the limo ride back into the city, Director Shapeev turned all of his attention to Vera. If he did not recognize Vladimir underneath the makeup, it was because the two had never, in all of the years Vladimir had been with the Kirov, exchanged more than a few pro-forma greetings at receptions. Director Shapeev was a political appointee who knew, and cared, little about ballet as art, and it was not his habit to mix socially with any but the most prominent of his dancers. There were, of course, rumors that his present position had something to do with rather intimate relations between him and the late Deputy Minister Nekrasova, but even if those malicious rumors were true, the two would have certainly been discreet enough so as not to involve her son. All that Oleg Shapeev saw, as he studied the slim woman seated next to him in the back seat of the limo (Tatyana had been seated next to the driver), was the next star and weapon in his ongoing battle with the Bolshoi for top ratings.

When they reached his office, Tatyana told him a more-or-less convincing story about this provincial dancer whom they had discovered on the trip and whom they adjoined to the company as an unpaid apprentice, how Olga sprained her ankle and Vera stepped in and saved the day. She was sorry she had not informed Director Shapeev about the developments, but they had no way of knowing that Comrade Bernshtein would be in the audience in Vladivostok and they hoped to do things in an orderly and proper manner upon their return to Leningrad, according to the accepted procedure. Vera added bashfully that she was grateful for the opportunity to dance with company C, and that she really did not think that she was good enough to dance at any higher level as yet, but was just honored by the opportunity of being associated in any way possible with the legendary Kirov Ballet. She hoped that she would prove herself worthy of a formal contract.

Director Shapeev regained his professional demeanor enough to say that, of course, she would have to have an audition in front of the full application board before any formal contract could be worked out, but that he had full faith that comrade Bernshtein, who was not easily fooled (and, if anything, was known to be prejudiced against the Kirov and in favor of the Bolshoi), was not wrong. As he escorted her out of his office, he gave her hand a tight and unmistakable squeeze. Vera gave him a peck on the cheek, as she said goodbye.

“You handled that very well,” said Tatyana as they walked out of the building. “Be careful of Shapeev, there is a reason he has a big couch in his office. I know from personal experience.” Since Vera could obviously not go back to Vladimir’s apartment, she was given the use of one of the many small furnished apartments overlooking the river Neva, which the Kirov owned and put at the disposal of visiting artists and other favored guests.

The next day, Vera was told that she was to audition for the lead in Yuri Nikolayevich Grigorovich’s ballet “The Legend of Love”, and would dance with Ilia Antonovich Feiglin himself, the Kirov’s leading male dancer since the departure of the great Valery Panov. This was a lucky break for her, since she already knew the ballet well, and had used it as a vehicle for some innovative choreographic variations which she and the choreographers of company C had been trying out. She perfected these during the two weeks of rehearsal allotted to her, and showed Feiglin, who had been instructed to agree to whatever she requested, what she intended to do. The innovations worked so well that, when the pair finished the dances assigned to them, the members of the audition board could not help themselves from giving them a standing ovation. Indeed, a new star was about to appear in the Kirov’s firmament.

This is not to imply that things were easy for Vera. Vladimir, after all, had lived in Leningrad most of his life and many people knew him well. When Vera entered a store or walked down the street, she sometimes sensed the puzzled glances by people whom (as Vladimir) she knew very well, and whom she now had to treat as total strangers. At the beginning, she nearly gave herself away by wanting to greet an old family friend or classmate, only to realize what she was about to do at the last moment, and shy away. She developed a technique similar to that of Bernshtein — to her too, the whole world was a stage and she was in the middle of it, acting a part.

When the final production of “The Legend of Love” opened, she became an instant star. Simyon Yakubovich Bernshtein was again in the audience and wrote another rapturous column about Vera. Soon, she had to get used to being recognized on the street and mobbed by people seeking autographs. Handling herself at press conferences and in personal interviews with reporters required special coaching by a team from the Kirov’s PR department. The hardest part, of course, was to maintain her absolute refusal to talk about her background. “I fix my concentration on the future,” she would always say. “The past is of interest to nobody.”

As Tatyana predicted, she was given the use of a big apartment in an exclusive neighborhood. She invited Anton Markovich to share it with her, but he refused. “I was in love with a handsome boy named Vladimir.” he explained, “I do not feel right being the consort of a beautiful ballerina named Vera.” Two weeks later, Anton resigned from the Kirov Ballet and returned to his native city of Kiev, where he took up a position as a teacher at a small ballet academy.

As a reward for “discovering” Vera, Tatyana Feliksovna was promoted to deputy manager of Company A, with the direct responsibility for keeping Vera happy and, literally, on her toes. It was she who arranged with the captain of the Helsinki — Leningrad ferryboat to smuggle in a regular supply of special hormone pills for Vera. Later, during one of the vacations, she would arrange for Vera to fly to a special clinic outside East Berlin where a specialist brought in from West Germany performed silicon-based breast augmentation surgery on her, a procedure unknown in the Soviet Union at the time. She was also the one who informed Director Shapeev that dancer Vladimir Nekrasov, who had been on an unpaid leave of absence since the trip to Vladivostok, had died under tragic circumstances. He had, apparently, been staying at a small resort hotel near Yalta. When he did not show up for meals two days in a row, the police broke into his room and found all of his clothes and effects except for his bathing suit. The presumption was that he had taken his customary morning swim from the beach near the hotel and drowned, with his body being carried into the Black Sea by the strong current. Such accidents happened, unfortunately, to at least a dozen tourists every year; there are signs on the beach forbidding swimming during hours when lifeguards are not on duty, but they are also routinely ignored. The police saw no reason to investigate the matter further.

Olga Pashkova, whose ankle never healed completely enough to allow her to return to dancing on a regular basis, replaced Tatyana as director of Company C. She gladly accepted Vera’s offer to share the apartment and the two became even closer friends than before. Other members of the ballet smiled knowingly when they saw Vera and Olga wearing each other’s clothes, styling their hair identically, or hugging each other a bit too tightly and too long than politeness dictated. When it became known that Tatyana often visited them and frequently stayed the night, well, everybody knew about HER tastes, and so one could only guess … .

One of the drawbacks of being a star, as Vera soon found out, was that it carried with it considerable social obligations. Two or three times a week, Director Shapeev would inform her that she was expected to be present at a reception for a Hungarian trade delegation or a group of French communist intellectuals, or perhaps at a private birthday party for a high government or KGB official. At one such reception, Vera was even introduced to Kim Philby himself. She was often told to be “especially nice” to some specific person (not always the guest of honor). Vera, one must admit, enjoyed flirting with men, and Tatyana taught her several gambits to insure that the requisite niceness did not extend beyond a lot of laughs and a few harmless kisses. These ranged from the hoary “it is my time of the month” to gentle hints that she was expected shortly at another private party for someone further up the political food chain. Nonetheless, there were some very scary moments, including a time when she had to be “especially nice” to an old family friend of her parents, who had known her since childhood. Fortunately, he was too fatigued and full of vodka to look at her very perceptively and even seemed relieved when she did not tarry long with him. (In fact, he was suffering from acute prostate problems and was more worried as to whether his bladder would hold for the length of their conversation.)

As the season went on, Vera’s professional star continued to shine. She revived and renewed Anna Pavlova’s role in “The Dying Swan”, to rave reviews. There were rumors that the Bolshoi was trying everything short of outright kidnapping to bring her to Moscow, including extreme political pressure. Director Shapeev became more and more protective of Vera, entrusting Tatyana more and more with the task of seeing that she not be “tampered with” by a rival company. And, indeed, the constant pressures of work, public relations, and fame were beginning to take their toll on Vera, and had definite effects on her relationship with Olga, which were at first very subtle but grew more and more intense as the months passed. More frequently than not, she let Olga make the decisions concerning their life, both personal and professional, and would inevitably defer to her will. Company members would sometimes overhear a conversation between the two, in which Vera would call her apartment-mate “Oleg” and use masculine verb forms in addressing her.

Once, towards the end of a vodka-soaked cast party to celebrate the end of a successful season, she referred to Olga as “my husband”, and then giggled hysterically. Everybody else joined in the fun and someone suggested that the two should be “officially” married. Of course, there was no difficulty finding a bridal dress and a tuxedo in the prop room. Tatyana, in the robes of an Orthodox priest and with a long fake beard, then performed what could, through a sufficiently dense haze of vodka fumes, be mistaken for a wedding ceremony. It was all considered to be great fun.

Actually, Tatyana, whose job it was to keep Vera on keel, was worried enough to talk to Director Shapeev about what was going on, and suggested that Vera was overworked and needed a long holiday. Since the Kirov Ballet was planning several appearances at festivals abroad during the summer, they decided that Vera and Olga would be given a two-week vacation in Spain, before joining up with the company again a week before their first international appearance, in Paris.

CHAPTER 3: FREEDOM

At the end of June, Vera, Olga, and three attendants (two of whom also worked for the KGB and served both as bodyguards and informers) travelled incognito to a villa on the Costa Brava, which had been lent to the Kirov by a rich Spaniard, who was a well-known ballet aficionado as well as a fellow-traveler. There they lay on the beach getting suntans and, away from their attendants, also had some serious discussions.

Contrary to impressions, neither Vera nor Olga had forgotten about Vladimir, nor had they been unaware of the fact that, sooner or later, Vera’s real identity was bound to be discovered. While the members of Company C had so far, to the best of their knowledge, held their tongues, it was only a matter of time before one of them would let the story slip to the waiting ears of the KGB, or maybe one day Vera would need emergency medical attention and a doctor would see what she was not supposed to see. Neither of them cared to contemplate what such a discovery would lead to. They decided that they could trust nobody, not even Tatyana, and that they must find a way to escape the situation. The terrifying prospects finally led them to a very daring and dangerous plan, of which their silly behavior towards each other was just the first phase. Now that they were in the West, it was time for the second phase. One day, the two of them, acting ditzier than usual, announced that they had rented a two-seat sports car and were going to drive to Granada to see the Alhambra. Before their attendants could object, they were gone, leaving all of their possessions behind them.

Their destination however was not the Alhambra but rather a regional airport, where they caught a flight to Madrid. There, they immediately took a taxicab to the American embassy and announced to the startled cultural attaché that they wished to defect to the United States. Of course, such a defection would be a great propaganda coup, given Vera’s artistic fame, and before 24 hours passed (and while, on the Costa Brava, they were being frantically searched for), they were crossing the Atlantic in a business jet with the markings of a company known, in certain circles, to be a CIA front operation.

The Agency people at the safe house in Virginia, to which they were taken for debriefing, expected to have to accommodate a famous prima ballerina and her lesbian girlfriend, both having a reputation for being airheads. They did not really expect to reap much information of value, and saw the defection primarily in terms of its public-relations value. It therefore came as a shock to them when Vera immediately announced that her real name was Vladimir Nekrasov, the son of the famous (or notorious, depending on how you looked at it) nuclear physicist, and that he was willing to give them considerable information — including the location and details of a secret laboratory to which his father had once taken him as a teenager, and which the CIA had known nothing about. All this, of course, was subject to certain conditions — one of which was that the defection not be publicized — to which the CIA agreed.

For the next two months, Vera talked and talked, about her father, her mother and their cronies, about the big shots she met at receptions, and about the political machinations in Leningrad. At the end of that time, the CIA performed its end of the defection bargain, and, at one of their clinics, removed the last traces of Vladimir from Vera’s body. In addition, both Vera and Olga underwent facial plastic surgery and were given new identities. They were given sufficient money to insure their future.

Six months after the defection, Vera Levinskaya and Olga Kagan, two Soviet Jewish women who managed to receive immigrant permits to the United States after a protracted struggle, set up a small ballet school in San Francisco, a city in which lesbian couples were not only tolerated but respected. Since the defection of the ballerina Vera Tertiak was never announced in the western press, the official Soviet line was that she and her friend Olga Pashkova had had an unfortunate automobile accident while on vacation (where they had been staying was never revealed). A suitably-impressive funeral was held for them in Leningrad. Unfortunately, the bodies of the two had apparently been so mangled that the caskets were not opened in public. Director Shapeev bewailed the loss of a great Soviet dance artist. “Whom the gods love,” he quoted the ancient Greeks, “they take young.”



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