Russian-born prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, who defected 18 years ago while on tour with the Kirov ballet company, made dance history on Saturday night when she shared a London stage with the company.

The appearance marked the first time a Soviet dancer who has defected was allowed to perform with his or her former company. Last year another famous Kirov defector, Rudolf Nureyev, was allowed to visit the Soviet Union.The dancer's portrayal of Odette in Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" brought a capacity audience of 3,500 to their feet in a prolonged ovation.

At the curtain call Makarova, visibly moved, presented a large bouquet to Irina Kolpakova - the Kirov's principal dancer and an old friend.

Makarova, 47, is widely regarded as one of the greatest ballerinas on stage and one of the most highly paid, earning more than $5,000 for a performance.

The announcement that the stage reunion would go ahead caused the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) to agree to change its prime-time Saturday night television schedule so that the performance could be shown live.

Makarova, interviewed on the BBC before the performance, said she was feeling "emotional ecstasy" at the prospect of dancing with the company with which she grew up. "I've been sad all these 18 years," she said.

Oleg Vinegradov, the Kirov's artistic director and choreographer, said on BBC television the decision to allow her to dance was not a political one.

"This is a human approach," he said.

Makarova joined the Leningrad-based ballet in 1959 and became a star.

She stunned the dance world 11 years later when she slipped away from the Kirov during a London tour and appealed to Britain for asylum, saying she sought freedom and to widen her artistic horizons.