Ballerina Biographies – Natalia Makarova

Nataliya Romanovna Makarova was born on October 21, 1940 in Leningrad Russia. She began her ballet career in Leningrad at the Vaganova School, formerly known as the Imperial Ballet School, at the age of 13. Natalia was placed in a special experimental class condensing the nine-year program into six years. After she graduated in 1959, she joined the Kirov Ballet, rapidly rising to the rank of Ballerina. Natalia came to be known internationally when she danced Giselle with the Kirov Ballet in London in 1961, which became one of her signature roles.

While on tour on September 4, l970, in London with the Kirov Ballet, Natalia requested political asylum in Great Britain. Her defection shocked the ballet world. She began her new career by joining the American Ballet Theater, making her debut with the company in Giselle on Dec 22, 1970. She danced American Ballet Theatre’s vast repertory including all the classical ballets and their contemporary repertoire.

Natalia began dancing with the Royal Ballet in 1972. She also has appeared as Guest Artist with ballet companies around the world including the Paris Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Berlin Ballet, London Festival Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Munich Ballet, Bejart’s Ballet of the 20th Century; Roland Petit’s Ballet de Marseille; Royal Swedish Ballet & Teatro Municipal Rio de Janeiro, Ballet de Santiago, Pact Ballet Johannesburg; Scottish National Ballet & Australia’s Victoria Ballet.

There were many ballets and pas de deux created just for Natalia . Several she danced with the famed Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev She also received the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical On Your Toes and in 1984, she starred in the West End, London production of On Your Toes, for which she won the Lawrence Oliver Award.

On February 1, 1989, after 19 years’ absence from Russia, Natalia was the first artistic exile to be invited back to perform in the Soviet Union. She returned to her native city of Leningrad, where she was reunited with her family, friends, former colleagues and teachers and danced with the Kirov Ballet on the stage where she began her amazing career. Natalia donated her costume from Onegin and her pointe shoes to the Ballet Museum in Leningrad commemorating her last performance in classical ballet. A documentary of her historic visit, Makarova Returns, was shown on BBC television.

In 1991, she made her debut as a dramatic actress in London. Natalia returned to Russia in 1992 to take part in the play Two for the Seasaw, giving performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There were many other dramatic pieces after these.

Natalia continues to stage classical ballets throughout the world passing on her knowledge to a new generation of dancers. In 2010 American Ballet Theatre celebrated the 30th Anniversary of her production of La Bayadere at the Metropolitan Opera House, and in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Mariinsky Theater paid tribute to her in a Gala performance in her honor.


In Natalia’s personal life she was romantically linked to Baryshnikov during their time in Russia before their defection. Afterwards, Natalia ended their relationship, but they remained friends afterwards. They were friends and dance partners throughout their lives and careers. In 1976 Natalia married industrialist Edward Karkar. Together they have a son, Andrei Mikhail, born February 1978.

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