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Juilliard Dance

Published: November 14, 2011
Category: review

Nina Ananiashvili, One-woman Show

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK — Like her legendary predecessor Anna Pavlova, Nina Ananiashvili is that rare ballet dancer whose powers don’t weaken with age. Pavlova toured the world performing “Dying Swan” into her forties; Ananiashvili, now 46, graced the Avery Fisher Hall stage on Nov. 5 as the Swan, one of four works danced as part of the State Ballet of Georgia performance. On first sight of her opalescent tutu and undulating arms, the audience erupted in applause, followed by dozens of light flashes as smart phones eagerly (and illegally) recorded the moment. (One woman was reprimanded for her crime at intermission and left in a huff.)

A former principal with the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theater, Ananiashvili is known for her laser-beam focus, and her costumed feathers appeared to remain completely unruffled by the lack of theater etiquette. She even sated her fans by performing the entire piece a second time.

Ananiashvili became the prima ballerina and artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia, of which she is a native, in 2004 at the request of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili (following the civil war and the Rose Revolution). Over the last seven years she has worked tirelessly, resuscitating the company that crumbled following Georgia’s 1991 independence from the Soviet Union. On the Nov. 5 program, she performed in three out of the four works, the very epitome of Hemingway’s adage, “Courage is grace under pressure.”

The evening’s other headliner was Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, currently choreographer-in-residence with the American Ballet Theater. He and Ananiashvili met in the mid 1990s, when he was just beginning to create works. Between 1997 and 2008 he made three ballets for Ananiashvili, helping to modernize the Georgian Ballet’s repertoire with pieces that advance, rather than dismantle, classical tradition. The first was “Charms of Mannerisms,” a small work for four dancers seen here in its U.S. premiere.

Danced to the music (recorded, in this case) of Couperin, “Charms” evokes (and satirizes) moments from “Giselle,” “Coppelia,” “Petrouchka” and “Carnaval.” Mikheil Makharadze’s black-and-white costumes could be variations on Nijinsky’s diamond-patterned suit for Fokine’s “Carnaval” (1910). Like Fokine’s work in homage to Commedia dell’ Arte, the dancers perform as stock characters, such as the rake and the flirt.

What was intriguing about “Charms” was Ananiashvili’s bold realizations of Ratmansky’s off-kilter mannerisms. What was fun about “Charms” was its sense of mocking frivolity, such as when Ananiashvili swooned like Giselle, and when Vasil Akhmeteli and William Pratt became Albrecht, simultaneously lifting two fingers aloft, pledging their honor to God. Having two romantic heroes on the same stage is a classical ballet no no—and in this case, a comedic scenario.

At the end of a very long program came Ratmansky’s “Dreams of Japan” (1998). The work for seven dancers deserves better than Fisher Hall, whose stage lacks wings and boasts a soaring proscenium that makes the dancers look small. The company performed “Dreams” at BAM in 2008 and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2010. Because of its richly hued costumes (by Makharadze) and the predominance of folk dance, “Dreams” evokes the Ballets Russes’ famed exoticism. Conducted by Gianluca Marciano, its percussive score by L. Eto, N. Yamaguchi, and A. Tosha felt like an adrenaline rush.

According to the Playbill, the sections in “Dreams” stem from four complex stories in Kabuki Theater. The characters include a suicidal pair of lovers, whose spirits become inhabited by a demon, and a lovelorn “Heron maiden.” The buttery, serene mover Philippe Salano (a guest artist) danced the maiden, which wasn’t so odd in light of Kabuki theater’s tradition of men dressing in travesty. Ananiashvili danced the sinister “Maiden of the Dojoji Temple,” the most arresting of the four sections. Scorned by a “Monk” (Vasil Akhmeteli), she transformed into a “Fire Snake,” lashing her red tail around her waist while streaking across the diagonal in a seamless set of turns. Then David Ananeli performed a marathon solo of endless leaps, as if aiming to reach the state of utter exhaustion suggested in “New Year’s Lion Dance.”

Also on the program was Ratmansky’s “Bizet Variations” (2008), a romantic work for three couples that lacked luster, largely due to a missing sense of theatrical focus from the dancers. Ananiashvili did not perform in the Bizet, and her absence was notable. One hopes the Georgian Ballet can carry on without her when the time comes. One ballerina does not make a company forever.

Musical America


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