Even amid the routine of a sweaty, stop-and-start rehearsal, Natalia Makarova reveals an irrepressible dramatic flair. In purple-and-pink sweater and leg warmers, a bandanna and flowing scarf trailing off her modishly cropped blond hair, she slinks commandingly through a jazzy duet with Lara Teeter, her co-star in the revival of "On Your Toes"
This production of the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical--receiving its Los Angeles premiere Tuesday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion--has served as a prime vehicle for Makarova's break into Broadway.
The dancer, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1970 and has triumphed since in nearly all the classical repertory, won a 1983 Tony Award for best actress in the show. A year later she wowed London audiences in the same vehicle. Now, she returns to the stage in a production that reassembles much of the original Broadway cast--including Teeter, Dina Merrill and George de la Pena, and once again directed by the venerable George Abbott.
Makarova's success in "On Your Toes" is all the more remarkable considering the shoulder injury she sustained when a stage pipe fell on her during a preview performance at Washington's Kennedy Center in December, 1982. Despite a broken collar bone, she made it to Broadway--and a new theatrical career. She doesn't sing in the musical, but the role of the temperamental Russian ballerina Vera Baronova who falls for an American hoofer has highlighted her canny comic abilities.
"I have a new public," the 45-year-old performer acknowledges.
"I danced all my life," she relates. "I've done 'Giselle,' 'Swan Lake,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Manon'--but only now people stop me in the street."
She has found the musical stage taxing. "It's a hard physical role," she says, "from pointe shoes to high heels. I don't have a minute to sit down and relax. If I'm not on stage, I'm warming up my muscles."
Six performances a week can be grueling, "but those are theater rules," the ballerina nods philosophically. And although Makarova has by now accumulated more than 150 performances in the show, she is not troubled by repetition. "Stanislavsky asks for an actor not to repeat," citing the seminal Russian director, "but to go for new feeling each time. I'm not trying to do that: I'm just like that. Every day is different."
Makarova has not entirely forsaken the ballet stage, despite a premature announcement of retirement that she declared was forced on her by reporters. Only last week she danced John Cranko's "Eugene Onegin" at a royal command performance in London, and in June she appeared in New York with American Ballet Theatre, performing the full-length "Romeo and Juliet" as well as the White Swan pas de deux--the latter opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The surprise scheduling seemed impetuous, but she revealed that the dates had been planned--"only I asked them not to announce in case I changed my mind. After all, I didn't dance for seven months before."
With this spring's North American tour of Leningrad's Kirov Ballet, she took the opportunity to view once more the company where she began her studies and achieved first fame. Although she offers some mild criticisms, she says, "What can I say? It's my home. There's still great schooling, and how the head and the arms move together is beautiful, so organic."
Makarova admits to arranging a meeting with some old Kirov friends--"very difficult to set up"--but she declines to comment on a purported tete-a-tete with artistic director Oleg Vinogradov. An on-stage reunion with her former troupe, she says, "would just not be possible."
Nowadays, the ballerina seriously "thinks about quitting" the ballet world, although "everybody says, 'You're crazy--dance, dance, dance!' " A recurrent knee problem has occasionally undercut her performances, although "now I feel all right," she maintains.
It is the "On Your Toes" shoulder injury that more clearly limits her repertory. "It hurts, but I can live with it," she states gamely. "Only a full 'Swan Lake' I can no longer do. It's too strenuous for the arms."
Will Makarova consider a non-dancing stage career? "Oh yes, please," she says. "It is my dream. I want roles." In fact, she anticipates possibly appearing next fall in a production of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" at the Arena Stage in Washington. "It is a small role, very concentrated," she notes, "but as Stanislavsky says, there are no small roles. . . ."