In 2004, Ananiashvili was invited by the president of her Georgian homeland to take over a company that badly needed inspiring leadership. The internationally known ballerina set to work. This is the State Ballet of Georgia’s second visit to the Pillow and its third to the U.S (there was a BAM engagement in 2008). It’s clear that Ananiashvili’s own experiences with a wide range of choreographers has influenced the direction the repertory has taken. Who’d have imagined this relatively small company would bring to Massachusetts a program consisting of three pas de deux and a solo by the great British master Frederick Ashton, a Balanchine duet, and a Jirí Kylián exercise in athletic modernism for eight women, along with Alexei Ratmansky’s delicious Bizet Variations?

It was not to be expected that the Georgian dancers would manage all these equally well, but they perform them whole-heartedly, with varying degrees of understanding. The Ashton works all require stylistic nuances. The choreographer, even when evoking 19th-century Russian ballets, gives the classical steps and gestures unexpected subtle tones and shifts of direction. At one point in the pas de deux from his Sylvia, the man lifts his ballerina off the floor in a standing position and backs up with her; suddenly she looks like a little girl, or a doll. In the dream-of-the-Orient duet from Thais, the beguiling woman with the sinuous arms bourrées across the stage; her attentive partner follows closely, occasionally hoisting her into a low leap that barely interrupts that little stitchery of steps.

Ananiashvili brings her own particular fragrance to the Thais duet—smoky but sweet, appropriate to a veiled vision. The dreamer (David Ananeli) can hardly believe his luck: to have this woman to stroke and pull in to drape against him! No wonder he pursues her, mesmerized, as she backs smoothly into the wings. The Sylvia pas de deux looks a little off-base. Anna Muradeli is all gentle sweetness (although her footwork isn’t always crisp in the demanding solo that keeps her on pointe most of the time ). Otar Khelashvili, however, has missed the modest Ashtonian tone shaping even this tutu-and-tiara number. He has a beautiful jump, but he’s too busy being noble and arrogant to display real interest in his partner. I thought it telling that, at the performance I saw, while Muradeli took her solo bow, he was smoothing his hair in preparation for his own.

The New York City Ballet in Peter Martins’s "Mirage"
Paul Kolnik
The New York City Ballet in Peter Martins’s "Mirage"
The State Ballet of Georgia, Nina Ananiashvili in the foreground, in Alexei Ratmansky’s "Bizet Variations"
Kristi Pitsch
The State Ballet of Georgia, Nina Ananiashvili in the foreground, in Alexei Ratmansky’s "Bizet Variations"

Details

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
April 27 through June 27

Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia
Jacobís Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts
June 23 through 27

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Voices of Spring is a different sort of duet. Set to Johann Strauss II’s rushing swirling Frulingstimmen, it was choreographed in 1977 for Britain’s Royal Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus. These two young lovers (Vasil Akhmeteli and the beguiling Lali Kandelaki) dance to the rapturous waltz—often side by side—amid fallen rose petals. She’s about to leap excitedly offstage when he retrieves her for more explosive lifts.

Jacques Offenbach’s opera La Chatte métamorphosée en femme provided the music and theme of Ashton’s little solo, La Chatte.Nino Ochiauri, in a bouffant white fur gown fit for a debutante, plays the initially proper cat-into-woman with appropriate pertness—preening on a small settee before getting down to claw its upholstery. Her only partner is a large motorized mouse that sends her into a frenzy of spins about the stage.

This is the second time I’ve seen Nino Gogua dance Balanchine’s marvelous 1972 Duo Concertant, and she’s even better than before—precise, yet bold, responsive to the music and her partner. It helps a great deal that the partner is the gentle, attentive guest artist, Sebastian Kloberg of the Royal Danish Ballet. And—what luck!—two killer musicians from Norfolk Chamber Music Festival/Yale School of Music, pianist Jeannette Fang and violinist David Southern, to play Stravinsky’s music onstage. You can sense Kloberg’s affinity to the brilliant score just from the way he stands listening beside the piano. He and Gogua perform the tricky, off-kilter steps with ease and lack of affectation. Only in the strange, suddenly poignant coda to the spicy duet—when her face is framed in a pin spot of light that only widens occasionally to show him kneeling before her—does Gogua become a little too dramatic for my taste.

The two larger group works on the program acquaint us with the company dancers in very different ways. Like all Ratmansky’s ballets in one way or another, Bizet Variations (played live by Fang on an offstage piano) turns any theater into a village, full of diversions and relationships that complicate, but never stop, the business of dancing. Ananiashvili is the undisputed queen of this gathering, and although Ochiauri and Muradeli have their own partners there’s no doubt as to which girl Ananeli and Khelashvili would like to be stepping out with. Even though Akhmeteli seems to be Ananiashvili’s preferred swain, there’s no serious rivalry between the women or the men in this happy get-together.

Interestingly, although Kylián’s 1989 Falling Angels (made for Nederland Dans Theatre) trumpets uniformity and regimentation, it tells us quite a lot about each of the eight women who perform in. The music is part one of Steve Reich’s Drumming (1970-71), and Joop Caboort’s mostly white lighting (adapted by Kees Tjebbes) lays bands on the stage. The performers wear soft, almost invisible shoes and outfits by Joke Visser that resemble black 1920s bathing suits with a velvety texture.

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