*as published in November 2020
There are few names that transcend and become synonymous with what they do. In the 1970s and 1980s, even those who didn’t follow ballet knew that when someone said someone was la Makarova, they were referring to supremacy in dance and to the dancer Natalia Makarova, one of the greatest of the 20th century. On her 80th birthday, November 21, 2020, I pay tribute to her.
Natalia Romanova Makarova was born in Leningrad, today Saint Petersburg, and started in the “afternoon” ballet, at age 13, when she joined the renowned Vaganova School. The average age of the beginners was 9 years old, but the difference was in the talent. After graduating, Natasha (as she is known among friends) joined the corps de ballet of Kirov in 1956. In a few years, she was promoted to prima ballerina, a status that few reached so quickly. In 1965 she won the gold medal in Varna and, in 1970, the Anna Pavlova prize. It was the same year, in September 1970, that he defected from the Soviet Union during a Kirov tour of London. Before her, Rudolf Nureyev made history by literally running away during a tour of Paris. Four years later, Kirov’s colleague Mikhail Baryshnikov would do the same when touring Canada. It was her turn.
According to the official version, Makarova chose to stay in the West to “expand her horizons”, but there is a legend that the motivation was that of a broken heart. Be that as it may, in London she enchanted the West with an impeccable Giselle, one of her most famous roles. Below, Natasha in 1964, with Yuri Soloviev.
It was while dancing Giselle that Natasha debuted at the American Ballet Theatre, her official “home” when she left the Kirov and where she danced until she retired.
Natasha’s style was impressive. It didn’t accelerate the movement, on the contrary, almost languid, it was of an unparalleled exactitude – and perfection –. His balance and arm movements were also legendary. She was also known for being a heavy smoker, demanding, and very passionate.
Although he came to dance more than the classics, it was the “traditional” roles that kept his fame. Swan Lake, Giselle, and Don Quixote were frequent. He danced with some “fixed” partners, such as Fernando Bujones, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and, the most remembered, Anthony Dowell. Her revival of La Bayadère, in 1974, rescued one of the most beautiful ballets that were not danced in the West (complete) before the production she coordinated. When Natasha did not win the contest for the position of artistic director of ABT, which went to Baryshnikov, she began to dance more frequently at the Royal Ballet, in London. Princess Diana personally checked out one of her performances in Manon and wanted to meet her.
After the end of communism in 1989, Natasha returned to Kirov and was reunited with friends and family. His last performance on the stage where he debuted was emotional.
In the early 1990s, Natasha left the stage and went on to direct productions such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and, of course, Bayadère. She stopped dancing as a result of knee injuries, but not before winning a Tony Award for her role on Broadway for On You Toes.
Natasha married businessman Edward Karkar and had a son with him, Andrei. She returned to dancing just five months after giving birth, and in 1979, she deservedly won a mother of the year award. She was widowed in 2013 and can be seen in ABT presentations, where I met her and I admit that I was a fan, being touched by the love and sympathy she shared. I didn’t take a selfie, I didn’t have the courage. Being on the side of the myth filled my memory with more feeling than any photo.