As I have written on a number of occasions in earlier posts, I was most fortunate to have been an avid fan of ballet and modern dance during its glorious heyday in the Seventies and Eighties. Perhaps I could include the Sixties because Rudolf Nureyev and Edward Villella were among stars who captured a cultural moment. The American-born Villella received a profile in Life magazine in 1969 that I remember well. I believe it put forth his name as a candidate for the world's greatest athlete--an unusual designation for a dancer. But he was so incredibly fit that one only needed to look at a picture of him to give it consideration.
Nureyev was considered the greatest dancer of his time. Soviet-born, Nureyev (below) created a major ripple in Cold-War politics by defecting to the West in 1961, the first artist to do so. His fame increased as he became the principal dancer for the Royal Ballet in London, especially when he paired with Dame Margot Fonteyn.
But I never got to see them dance. It was not until the defections of dancers like Mikhail Baryshnikov in the early Seventies that the next dance explosion took place, and I treasured that period. A dancer I have not yet written about is Natalia Makarova. She was born in Leningrad and was a principal dancer for the legendary Kirov Ballet until 1970. That year, she defected and joined both the Royal Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, a coup for both companies.
(Below: Makarova and Baryshnikov)
In October of 1980, Natalia Makarova hosted a virtual all-star game of dancers that I couldn't miss. Before I go further, let's talk about name pronunciation. It is not MAK'-a-rove-uh, as most Americans would say. It's Ma-KA'-ro-vuh. Makarova was the most luminous of the stars in this short stint at the Uris Theatre, a Broadway house. There were only going to be 32 performances, so it was a hot ticket. In addition to Makarova, we would also see superstar dancers Anthony Dowell (from the Royal Ballet), one of the great dancers of the 20th Century; Fernando Bujones and Cynthia Gregory (from the American Ballet Theatre), two of my very favorite dancers; and a corps of elite complementary dancers. They danced pieces with music from Chopin and Bach. Makarova, herself, took a scene from the ballet Raymonda, with choreography from the peerless George Balanchine, that I had seen numerous times before. It was a glorious day for lovers of the ballet. (See Playbill below:)
To give you an idea of her artistry, I have included the clip below of Makarova dancing with Baryshnikov in a scene from Sleeping Beauty. The History of Dance, published in 1981, notes that "her performances set standards of artistry and aristocracy of dance which mark her as the finest ballerina of her generation in the West." A few years after the performance I saw, Makarova branched out and had a good deal of fun performing for Broadway audiences in the musical On Your Toes, a revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical created for Fred Astaire back in the Thirties and the first Broadway musical to incorporate ballet. The show was a hit, winning the TONY Award for Best Revival. And who should win the TONY for Best Actress in a Musical? Yup. Natalia Makarova! When she accepted the award, she gave a most memorable speech, which you can also see below. Makarova is long retired now, but she did receive the vaunted Kennedy Center Honor back in 2012 as one of the greatest stage artists in history. She was most worthy of the distinction.