Think Before You Do

November 28, 2001

There are some performances you feel like you could see over and over again, because the dancers made such a huge impression on you. You remember every moment, every movement. That’s how I feel about a video of Natalia Makarova performing the White Swan pas de deux from the second act of Swan Lake, that I watched for the first time a couple of days ago.


I’ve watched it every day so far, and I keep noticing new and amazing things about her dancing. I’ve never seen a more intelligent dancer onstage or onscreen—but this is not to say that she’s wholly academic and cold. Quite the opposite, in fact; her Odette is incredibly soft and shy, yet strong, a perfect rendition of the character. From the moment she comes onstage, it’s clear that every movement from her toes to her eyes is clearly thought-out and deployed for the maximum effect of beauty. For example, in the opening sequence, in which Odette walks onstage and takes her beginning pose on the floor (in the classic seated position with torso and arms folded over the straight front leg), Makarova walks out on very soft, bent knees and a high demi-pointe: this gives the illusion of weightlessness.


To get down onto the floor (something that can be quite challenging for any dancer), she really glides down onto her left knee by rolling through her right foot and using her plie on the right leg to give her the control she needs to lower herself down, seamlessly and completely unhurried. She slowly transfers weight onto her left knee and begins to bend it to sit down while straightening her right leg all in one movement, instead of a sequence. Finally, as she descends the last few inches to sit on her left heel, her back becomes completely straight as she bends from the waist, chest first, moving her head and eyes to convey her shyness and distress, with her arms following, completing the opening sequence.


The result is a crystal-clear, perfect opening to this pas that is calculated to set the mood of the scene and communicate Odette’s personality to the audience, and it is incredibly effective, because Makarova has obviously shaped each step with this in mind. It also reminds me how important it is to be a thinking dancer, and that we always need to consider the motivation behind our movements. This can get lost in the daily grind of routine class and rehearsal, but it’s important to remember that there is also a “why” to what we do, not just a “when.” To be an effective performer, I really believe that you have to remember what you’re trying to say to the audience with your movements, what you want them to know about your character, or about you as a dancer.



Watch the video here at!