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I Remember Natalia Makarova: Memories of a Ballerina Absoluta….

April 29, 2012

Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov

In the 80’s I had the good fortune to be able to study with ballet master David Howard. His school on 62nd Street in NYC was a beacon of talent for dancers. In his classes were dancers from American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet and every other dance company in the city.

I always took the 12 o’clock class and had my regular place at the barre, middle of the room by the mirrors. (I always took barre in front of the mirror, watching my turnout and placement till I began studying with Maggie Black, she put a stop to that, she had no mirrors in the studio, well she did, it was about five feet long, that was it. Maggie wanted the dancer to experience their movement physically instead of visually.) It was not uncommon to see great dancers in David’s class. You sometimes saw Baryshnikov and always in class you could find phenomenal dancers such as Katherine Healy, Daniel Meja, Leslie Browne, and as well as most of ABT’s Corps de Ballet. It was a magical time.

When in NYC Ms. Makarova would also be there. She was always late for the 12 noon class, running in last-minute, right as pliés had started and I always saved a place for her. She would run over, smile her thanks and join the class. I was able to watch and study her amazing technique up close. Needless to say my technique vastly improved during this period.

Her floor work was inspiring, I remember we were doing a pirouette combination, everyone else landing in fifth position. Ms. Makarova would land a wide fourth position then sweep her arms over her

Natalia Makarova

head and arching backwards, the same movement that had been seen around the world when she danced Swan Lake.

I saw her when she starred in Roland Petit’s “Blue Angel,presented by the Berlin Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1985. She was typically flawless. I still remember the bedroom scene, where she began by arching her back to sit up in bed, stretching seductively before she stood to dance.  “Blue Angel” was the first full-length role created for the ballerina and I was at all 12 performances.

My friend Anna Fowler Blank danced with the Berlin Ballet and was chosen by Roland Petit to be in “Blue Angel”. Anna and I danced together with Thalia Mara’s Jackson Ballet before she was asked to join the Berlin Ballet. So I had access to so much behind the scenes at the Met. I remember once, after taking company class, we all filed upstairs to the dressing rooms, it must have been at least 30 of us in a row, heading down a hallway when at the front Ms. Makarova appears. She was coming from her dressing room, her arms filled with flowers, we were blocking the hall, everyone froze, then as one, as only a group of classically trained dancers could do, we stepped to the side. She flowed past, smiling radiantly at us.

Sorry about the quality of the video

It was Ms. Makarova’s phasing that made her so unique, the way she would hang her movement suspended on a note, her dancing flowing though the music. The way she could balance on point in arabesque or in attitude derrière in her adagio was trademark. Her extreme lyricism and exquisite line made her the perfect dancer. Her leaps and jumps so bold yet so light, creating moments of intense beauty that were so memorable. But it was the way she released herself into her roles, not just playing them, but finding essences of herself within them, becoming the persona, becoming Juliet, becoming Giselle.

As you can see in the video of Other Dances, it was her phrasing that was so extraordinary, the way she could suspend herself on the upbeat, to flow

Natalia Makarova as the Dying Swan

through the musical phrasing actually bring forth a full visualization of the notes.

Note the coy playfulness she brings to the variation in Don Quixote. These are the things that made Natalia Makarova a Ballerina Absoluta. I was at the Gala Tribute for Ms. Makarova last night. The Youth America Grand Prix event was a rich moment that allowed for the remembrances of one of the great dancers of a generation.

I will be posting about the event later in the week, but it inspired me to create my on tribute, to rummage through my memories of a magical period of dance in New York City.

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