Natalia Makarova in Giselle.

#TBT: Natalia Makarova in "Giselle" (1977)

There is something special about watching a prima ballerina dance her signature role; her sense of ease and pleasure makes ballet's complex vocabulary look completely natural. Natalia Makarova, one of the world's leading dancers in the latter half of the 20th century, was particularly acclaimed for her portrayal of the title role in Giselle. Makarova, who danced with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet) in the 1950s and 60s, defected to the West in 1970 and shortly thereafter joined American Ballet Theatre. In this clip from 1977, her lively, exquisite interpretation of Giselle's first-act variation makes evident why this role was her hallmark.

Makarova's frequent partner at ABT, Mikhail Barshynikov, is seen briefly at the beginning of this clip opposite her as Albrecht. She begins the solo with a simple preparation that expresses the character's joy at being able to dance for her friends. With an aura of lightness, she travels widely across the stage, skimming the floor with each precipité and playfully beating her feet through little walks on pointe. One of the loveliest moments is at 1:03 when she floats seamlessly through her pick-up piqué turns. When she finishes the variation, the audience erupts in applause.

Makarova, who was awarded a prestigious Kennedy Center Honor in 2012, continues to be an active force in the ballet world, staging ballets at ABT and for companies around the world. Happy #ThrowbackThursday

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