Nina Ananiashvili, State Ballet of Georgia at Jacob’s Pillow
June 23, 2010 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath.
Nina Ananshvili has worked practically every day of her life to make ballet look effortless and feel joyful—an extraordinary passion that she continues to share with her company, the State Ballet of Georgia, and on the stage here at Jacob’s Pillow. Ms. Ananshvili is a prima ballerina among primas—an internationally acclaimed dancer who, among many prizes, honors and guest artist appearances, has been a principal for both the Bolshoi and the American Ballet Theatre. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
For the last six years she has added what could be called the most demanding role of her career, that of Artistic Director of the Georgian State Ballet, the country of her birth. She described for us the way in which she was asked to assume the position—summoned by the President of Georgia, he gave her four hours to “decide” to say yes before he planned to go public with her acceptance.
Clearly, he was a wise man, as Ms. Ananshvili has proved to be an innovator committed to expanding repertory and creating international partnerships. She has been determined to add the great 20th century ballet choreographers to the 19th century classics, and this evening’s collection of small works is the fruit of her labors.
The first section of the evening consists of four pieces, three male-female duets and a solo, by Frederick Ashton, created between 1952 to 1985. The solo, La Chatte, provided a humorous contrast to the generally romantic theme. In this piece the ballerina is a precious, white, fluffy pussycat, an interesting change from the more prevalent bird motifs. It’s lovely and refreshing to see an elegant ballerina sensuously rolling around on the floor. For the rest of the Ashton pas de deux, one would think that two dancers would have no trouble fitting on such a modest stage, but Ashton’s sense of the grandeur and spectacle suggest they were designed for much larger venues. Ashton’s ideal still conforms to the romantic vision of woman on a pedestal—resulting in many statuesque lifts, the most strikingly totemic nearing the end of Thais Pas de Deux (1971).
In comparison, the next piece by Balanchine, Duo Concertant (1972), seems easy and intelligent, the partnering naturally intimate and mutual. Delicate, nuanced phrasing; rhythmic, low, passages are all enhanced by a human-sized sense of relationship that is rooted in the music by Stravinsky. The live pianist and violinist on stage, Jeanette Fang and David Southorn, respectively, delineate a home base, literally and figuratively. The initial tableau is that of the two dancers standing musingly behind the piano, listening attentively. It presents a respectful and affectionate family portrait we return to again and again.
Alexei Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations Pas de Six was choreographed in 2008 specifically for this company. After four pas de deux and a solo, this piece with three couples feels wildly expansive and dynamic. Lush, flowing costumes in a palette of cool blues and lavender for the ladies, and Romeo blouses and fitted pantaloons on the men, enhance the pleasure of pure movement. That the women are adored by their men is evident (at one point the men literally kiss the women’s feet), but that the dance itself is the highest love is very clear.
The last piece, Falling Angels (1989) by Jiri Kylian, presents the strongest contrast to the rest of the program. It contains hardly any obvious ballet vocabulary—the drum score and stark, structured lighting; the angular gestures and contracting spines, say Modern all over. Yet, the emphasis on extreme synchronized movement, and the subtle variations by individuals in the group, eventually breaking off to dance duets and solos, draws on the tradition of the corps. Literally forming one body together, this group of eight women exhibit a virtuosic unity that supports and contrasts the ever-changing individuals.
As a complete evening of entertainment, this performance is an exceptional sampler of some of the greatest modern ballet choreographers. Here is a marvelous opportunity to explore the range of artistry directly influenced by the great classics, freed from a three-act storyline. Romantic and passionate, subtle and nuanced, there is so much here to enjoy.
This show runs two hours with two 10-minute intermissions.