Ballerina Natalia Makarova
Makarova was one of the great Russian defectors of the 70’s. Along with Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, she made the “leap” to the West in search of artistic freedom.So Makarova was probably THE ballerina at the time, although her partners would sometimes get more press. But not because of what was happening onstage.
Por Javier Velasco (California, United States) Artistic Director San Diego Ballet.
Makarova was one of the great Russian defectors of the 70’s. Along with Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, she made the “leap” to the West in search of artistic freedom. Although ballet is primarily seen as a woman’s art, it is usually the male dancers that capture the public-at-large’s imagination. Even the lesser known Alexander Goudenov made headlines and movies (Witness).
So Makarova was probably THE ballerina at the time, although her partners would sometimes get more press. But not because of what was happening onstage.
She was known best for her extreme lyricism and exquisite line. She was a jumper and had lovely extension. She was not a turner. Her great roles were Giselle and Odette. But every Makarova performance was as if she were creating something new. Unlike her younger rival at the time, Gelsey Kirkland, her performances were journeys of self discovery. Both researched their roles extensively. But Kirkland would calculate her brilliant performances in a scientific manner. Makarova would release herself into her roles.
Anton Dolin once told her, “NOBODY does the Act Two adagio in Giselle as slowly as you.” To which she replied with a smile, “Yes, but if something is fast, I like it to be VERY fast. Extreme.” She was always looking to draw things out as much as she could so that she could be dancing on the edge. You can see her feeling… “How much further can I stretch this line?”
Although she came to the West for larger creative expression, she made her largest mark in the classical and romantic roles she had performed in Russia. Of her many experiments with contemporary choreography, perhaps the best was OTHER DANCES, a pas de deux choreographed by Jerome Robbins for her and Baryshnikov. Above is an image of her in costume for the piece, but the pose is not from the ballet. It is pure Makarova.
She was NOT a traditionally musical dancer. What people failed to understand about her was that HER phrasing was the most important thing to her. If the music was a bit fast at a performance, rather than push herself to stay with the music but kill her line, she would instead finish her phrase and catch up to the music later. She did not see herself as a slave to a conductor’s baton. Which caused quite a few heated discussions between ballet lovers, music lovers and people who were both.
The first two “real” ballet dancers I ever saw perform were Baryshnikov and Makarova in OTHER DANCES. Not knowing any better, I just assumed that ALL ballet dancers had the same amount of technical mastery and artistry. To this day, every dancer I see is judged by that first glimpse. I will always remember her developpe’ a la second in this piece. The plasticity of the movement made think “Oh, THATS what dancing is.”
This is an image the two in Sleeping Beauty. Not a good ballet for either, although you couldn’t tell by the pic. Sleeping Beauty is THE most classical ballet. Not much drama in the dancing itself, so both artists found it hard to break though what they perceived as the pinnacle of academism. They were both also very short, so in a ballet that is all about grandeur of line they might have felt as if they needed to over compensate.
What Nureyev, Baryshnikov and Makarova did bring with them was an immense knowledge of an art form that had developed in quite a different way in a closed society. As much as Balanchine revolutionized ballet by his work in the US, these three revitalized … ballet dancers through their personalities and performances. And Makarova, being a woman, was an artistic role model for thousands of girls who needed one. A job she took seriously. Her re-stagings and coachings of classical roles were invaluable in the renaissance in female ballet dance in America.
Makarova was not just an intelligent, emotional, fascinating dancer, she was an intellectual as well. Her autobiography, complete with PLENTY of pictures is a must read for any kind of dancer.
The end of Makarova’s career coincided with the fall of the USSR. Because of this she was able to be reunited in some very emotional farewell performances with her original ballet company in London and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg.) http://dance-to-the-piper.blogspot.com