Viewpoint: On Her Toes


Viewpoint Makarova hdl 1112
Natalia Makarova in Act II of Giselle, 1970
© Rosemary Winckley/The Image Works 2012

I became a ballet fan during the 1970s, at the height of what was called "the ballet boom." Standing room was cheap, and I didn't mind standing as I fell in love with the glorious ballets of George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. It gave me a thrill to know, as I was watching Ballo della Regina or Symphony in C from the back of the last ring of the New York State Theater, that Balanchine himself was watching from the wings.

There was a different kind of thrill to be had at the Metropolitan Opera House, where I gorged myself on the bread-and-butter repertory of ABT and the visiting companies from Europe — big-name ballets that were driven by big-name stars. Those ladies and gentlemen were the divas and divos of dance, whose will had the force of law: one never knew exactly how a particular ballerina or danseur would alter a step or a sequence of steps in a ballet. In those days, it seemed as if no two Swan Lakes were the same. Certain elements of the choreography were subject to change, depending on who was dancing — not just changed in mood or in steps but changed markedly in style, intention, tempo and (on some occasions) even in the music played. Each traverse of Act III's "Black Swan" pas de deux would include feats of physical daring that incited the audience to make a noise starting off as a collective gasp and building into screams of joy in about half a measure of music.

One performance from those early ballet-going days had no moments of real bravura, but it changed forever the way I watched ballet — and the way I thought about divas, whether they were at work in ballet, opera or the theater. It was a Giselle in September 1978, with Ivan Nagy, a beloved artist who had just chosen to announce his retirement from dancing, in splendid form as Albrecht. That night, Nagy's Giselle was Natalia Makarova, who stepped into the performance on short notice in place of another ballerina. 

Makarova was a great star and a great Giselle. Nagy was one of her favorite partners. Their performances together were always special, but this particular Giselle, their last together in New York, was extraordinary. I can't tell you how she did it, but that night Makarova made Giselle a ballet about Albrecht. The familiar details of Makarova's Giselle — the shining lightness of her jumps, the integrity of her footwork, the intense, exalted grace of her mad scene — were all present, but their collective impact was completely different. Makarova danced every step and made every gesture in support of her partner; through sheer force of personality and craft, she turned the audience's eyes away from her in one of the greatest acts of artistic generosity I've ever seen. To me, that Giselle provided a defining diva moment: a diva is an artist who can make you see things her way — and make you enjoy it. spacer 


CORRECTIONS:  Luigi Alva is not a "native Italian speaker," as stated in Recordings (Sept.). Born Luis Ernesto Alva y Talledo, the tenor is a native of Peru. Tenor Joseph Kaiser is from Canada, not the U.S., as stated in "In Review" (Sept.).

The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.

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