Natalia Makarova was born in St Petersburg in 1940. At the age of thirteen, she was admitted to the Vaganova Academy, where – in view of her late start and great talent – she joined a special class, in which pupils completed the course in six years, instead of the usual nine.
Following her training, she joined the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet), where she was soon promoted to the rank of principal. She gained international fame when she danced Giselle in London, during a tour by the Kirov Ballet. Five years later, she sought political asylum in England. Her career in the West began with American Ballet Theatre, where she made her debut as Giselle. With this company, she danced not only the great classical roles, but also roles in work by Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Glen Tetley, among others. In 1972, she transferred to The Royal Ballet in England, where she became acquainted with the work of Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan.
Makarova also performed with internationally renowned companies like the Ballet of the Paris Opera, The National Ballet of Canada, the Ballet of La Scala in Milan and Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the XXth Century in Brussels. Choreographers like Robbins, Ashton, MacMillan, Tetley, Béjart, Roland Petit and John Neumeier have created ballets especially for her.
In 1974, Makarova rehearsed the ‘Kingdom of the Shades’, from La Bayadère, for American Ballet Theatre. Six years later, she produced and directed the complete ballet for the company, making American Ballet Theatre the first Western company to take the complete Bayadère into its repertoire. Since then, Makarova has produced her version of La Bayadère for more than ten companies to date. She has also produced new versions of Swan Lake, Paquita, Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, which are in the repertoires of various prestigious ballet companies.
In 1979, Makarova published her memoirs with Knopf in New York: A Dance Autobiography. Ten years later, she performed in her homeland with the Kirov Ballet for the first time since fleeing to the West. For the occasion, the BBC made the documentary Makarova Returns.
Photo: Altin Kaftira