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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 00:14 GMT
Donkey bows out of Russian ballet
Monika the donkey is fed at St Petersburg Zoo
Monika is now enjoying her retirement at St Petersburg Zoo

The Mariinsky Ballet of St Petersburg, formerly the Kirov, has said farewell to one of its longest-serving artistes - Monika, a 21-year-old female donkey.

The animal retired after 19 years' service carrying the character Sancho Panza around the famous stage in productions of the ballet Don Quixote.

At her retirement party, Monika danced a waltz with a ballerina and was given a carrot cake, pinafore and kerchief.

Her role will be taken over by another female donkey called Alina.

"It is a pity that she is retiring so early, but of course as it is well known, ballerinas also retire early," Anastasia Kolegova, one of the Mariinsky's star ballerinas, told Reuters news agency.

She sometimes nodded her head to the music, and drew some of the attention from the ballerinas - we sometimes told her off about that
Anastasia Kolegova

"It doesn't mean that she will stop working altogether, and we hope she will share her experience with the new star, Alina."

Ms Kolegova said there were times when Monika would become the focus of attention on stage during productions of Don Quixote.

"She always coped easily with her duties, and she seemed to do it with pleasure," she said.

"She sometimes nodded her head to the music, and drew some of the attention from the ballerinas. We sometimes told her off about that!"

Tatyana Solomatina of St Petersburg Zoo, where Monika lives, said the donkey always knew the correct time to appear on stage and required no prompting.



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