Plisetskaya's ruble income is now handsome indeed. Her basic salary is the equal of a high government official's, and, as a People's Artist, is supplemented by a system of bonuses for every performance over four each month. Her average monthly earnings equal those of six or more highly skilled engineers -- but not much more than, say, an American college professor's. It is their opportunity to earn not rubles but foreign currency that makes a small clique of Russian writers and performers fantastically rich by their own country's standards. But these earnings too are a fraction of their counterparts' in Europe and America. What reduces this part of their income is not the Russian standard of living in general or the ruble's minuscule purchasing power, but confiscatory government policy.
Although the Soviet booking agency, StateConcert, demands standard fees for the Bolshoi's Western appearances, it pays Plisetskaya no more than fifty per cent, and often as little as ten per cent, of what similar artists would command for similar work. I did not determine the precise percentage on any specific tour, for although Plisetskaya talks about money with her usual candour -- no qualms about asking the price of this or announcing what she paid for that -- she declined even to hear out a question about her foreign earnings. Once again, this was a reluctance to involve herself in delicate political subjects: as in the case of her own family history, she is not free to comment on the state's disposal of her earnings.
Despite Plisetskaya's silence, however, it is known, if never mentioned in print, that when the Bolshoi is on tour in America members of the corps de ballet are paid five dollars per performance* -- substantially less than the Metropolitan's cleaning ladies employed for those four-odd hours. Leading soloists can earn four or five times as much, and it is said that Plisetskaya commands double the fee of the next highest dancer -- but still under one hundred dollars a performance. Since Margot Fonteyn's fee is roughly $2,500 per performance, StateConcert's profit on Plisetskaya can be imagined: not the ten per cent agent's commission usual in the West, but over ninety-five per cent.
Plisetskaya's case is not unusual: State Concert pays Sviatislav Richter, for example, roughly two hundred dollars from the fee it demands for his foreign appearances.
*This is in addition to their hotel room and one meal a day -- a huge one, when the company is touring under contract to the Hurok Agency. While touring abroad Bolshoi personnel continue to receive their ruble salaries in Moscow, but this too is astonishingly low in most cases: new members of the corps receive some 120 rubles a month, just above a bare minimum urban wage.
Russia close-up by George Feifer. 1973. Page 73-4.