The Kennedy Center

Natalia Makarova


(Ballerina, choreographer, teacher; born November 21, 1940, in Leningrad, U.S.S.R.)

American culture is a work in progress, a rich mosaic perennially enriched by new arrivals to our shores. In dance, Russian immigrants from George Balanchine to Mikhail Baryshnikov have not only made their genius America's own but also helped create the glorious variety of American ballet. None of them has made for a sweeter, more beautiful gift as the career of Natalia Makarova.

She was born in 1940 in the cradle of classical ballet, Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg), and studied at the legendary Vaganova School before joining the Kirov Ballet as a teenager. She left her native Russia in 1970, and that same year she made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in a production of Giselle that set the gold standard for her generation. The gorgeous exile also danced to great acclaim with Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, as well as Paris Opera Ballet, Roland Petit's Ballets de Marseille, London Festival Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, and Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the 20th Century. At ABT, thirsty for new frontiers, she worked memorably with Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Glen Tetley, and Alvin Ailey. She left her indelible stamp on Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.  The memory of her presence has remained alive long after the curtain's fall in ballets as varied as Manon, Les Sylphides, Song of the Earth, A Month in the Country, Voluntaries, Dances at a Gathering, Elite Syncopations, and Onegin, as well as of course, in The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, and Giselle

In 1976, Makarova married the businessman Edward Karkar, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, gave birth to her son Andrei Mikhail in 1978, and got the Mother of the Year Award in 1979. Other awards have come her way ranging from the Tony Award, Olivier Award, Astaire and Stanislavsky awards to the Dance Magazine Award, the Merited Artist of the Soviet Union, and the Anna Pavlova Prize in Paris. Princess Diana presented Makarova with London's Evening Standard Award in 1985, for her performance in Onegin with London Festival Ballet. In a touching, historic homecoming, Makarova returned-the first exiled artist to do so-to Leningrad before the fall of the Soviet Union, gracing the Kirov stage in 1989. It was a fitting gesture in a career marked by generosity of spirit.

"I was trained in the Russian classical style," says Makarova. "My goal is to pass it on to other generations." And yet, this hothouse flower bloomed to dazzling dimensions in the wild garden of American dance. Her Giselle transformed with each partner at ABT, from the aristocratic Erik Bruhn and the ineffably gentle Ivan Nagy and Helgi Tomasson, through her ideal romantic partnership with Anthony Dowell, her uncanny sympathy with Peter Shaufuss and the reckless abandon of her pairing with Mikhail Baryshnikov-whom Makarova called a source of "emotional madness."  "She is spontaneous," both Nagy and later Baryshnikov said. Her spontaneity on stage made every moment true, every performance new.

That spontaneity carried her beyond classical ballet: Makarova surprised herself and everyone else by winning a 1983 Tony Award and a 1984 Laurence Olivier Award as Best Actress in a Musical, starring in the Kennedy Center's production of On Your Toes directed by 1982 Kennedy Center Honoree George Abbott. "She has instinct for comedy," said the veteran Abbott, who also co-wrote the production's original book with Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. ABT's Donald Saddler, who coached Makarova in On Your Toes, said "I don't know if Lucille Ball could have done better."

But it is perhaps her legacy beyond her own performances that may prove the most lasting influence on American and worldwide ballet.  Called "the eternal godmother of La Bayadère" by the New York Times, she has been on a mission to nourish and revitalize the tradition of classical ballet. She first staged the "Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadère for ABT in 1974, going on to stage that ballet for San Francisco Ballet and National Ballet of Canada, She staged the full-length production of La Bayadère for La Scala Ballet, Royal Ballet, Australian Ballet, Tokyo Ballet, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and the Corella Ballet in Madrid. She also staged, made new, other classics including Giselle, Paquita, The Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake. But it is La Bayadère that best embodies Makarova's influence on classical ballet in our time. Here is classicism at its purest, a world beyond despair, exquisite and simple. Here is "Makarova's miracle," Arlene Croce wrote in The New Yorker of her staging for the American Ballet Theatre.

"I remember two things that had taken shape in me even as a child: curiosity and perfectionism," Makarova wrote in her 1979 autobiography. "What has always been interesting to me, what really motivates me, is the process of working, the knowledge and self-realization in the process; not the result."
Natalia Makarova