My crazy life of late has made me late in posting this, but last weekend I went to BAM to see Nina Ananiashvili, a principal ballerina with both the Bolshoi and American Ballet Theater, dance with her newish company, The State Ballet of Georgia, whose artistic directorship she took over in 2004.
The program I saw consisted of four ballets: Balanchine’s “Duo Concertante,” Yuri Possokhov’s “Sagalobeli,” and two by talk-of-the-town Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky — “Bizet Variations” and “Dreams About Japan.”
I loved the company’s rendition of “Duo Concertante.” The dancers (in above photo by Jack Vartoogian), were Nino Ogua and Lasha Khozashvili and they danced it with more clarity of intent than I think I’ve seen before. Though it’s a non-story ballet, as are many of Balanchine’s, that doesn’t mean there was no room for interpretation, emotion, drama, and conflict. The dancers interacted with each other — by turns playful, romantic, aggressive, even somewhat violent, and loving, as Ogua would glide Khozashvili across the stage, she’d smile at him flirtatiously, she’d turn and run from him and he’d catch her and sweep her up, she’d place her head sweetly on his shoulder. After they finished a section, they would walk to the musicians — an onstage pianist and violinist, look at them quizzically, and as soon as the music gave them the cue, they would walk back to centerstage, regard each other, and begin dancing again. It was very “dramatic,” in the sense that the dancers were not merely performing steps without expression, like I’ve seen Balachine choreography performed, but they interacted with one another, with the musicians, and with the audience, drawing you in and making you a part of it.
Next was Ratmansky’s “Bizet Variations.” (photo of Ananiashvili and Vasil Akhmeteli by Jack Vartoogian). I wasn’t really in love with this one. It was sweet, with the women fluttering around in beautiful blue dresses, Nina as the lead in a purplish hue, and the men romancing them. I thought it was pretty but nothing really substantial.
My favorites were Possokhov’s “Sagalobeli” a beautiful combination of ballet with Georgian folk dance set to bewitching Georgian folk music, and Ratmansky’s “Dreams About Japan,” a stunning melding of classical ballet with Japanese dance, set to mesmerizing, at times frightening, Japanese percussion. Bands in both were, splendidly, live.
In “Sagalobeli,” the women all wore lovely, flowing beige dresses with snaky patterns on the bodice, and the men kind of Gladiator-style vests with tights and boots. Possokhov, a Russian choreographer who works mainly with San Francisco Ballet, brilliantly combined classical ballet with intriguing folk movement that at times resembled Flamenco, with couples energetically tapping the floor in a kind of conversation with each other, and at times, when women danced alone, a kind of belly dancing. The men-only parts consisted of Russian-looking deep-knee-bent folk dance kicks combined with the male bravura elements of classical ballet — whipping foette turns and giant soaring leaps. It was lovely and the music, a Tbilisi urban folklore performed by the Sagalobeli Ensemble, was just a dream. I didn’t want it to end.
(above, Julieta Cervantes photo of Nina A. in “Japan” from this short but good NYTimes article by Alastair Macaulay about Ratmansky’s work)
And the Ratmansky — ah, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen by him. I actually liked it. I actually see what critics are going on about now! Though I have a feeling just from what I overheard in the theater that this is the critics’ least favorite of his… Anyway, structured like traditional Kabuki Theater (in which only the most popular dance fragments from various classical plays are presented), Ratmansky used percussion music performed by the Tbilisi Theater of Opera and Ballet and a combination of Japanese traditional dance with ballet to tell four short stories: “Sagi Musume,” in which a young girl mourns her lost love; “Futa Omote,” where the souls of lovers who’ve committed suicide reunite in one evil spirit; “Musume Dojoji,” in which a young monk fails to return the love of a maiden, who tranforms herself into a Fire Snake and avenges him; and “Kagami Jishi,” where a lion’s mask forces anyone who comes into contact with it to dance to exhaustion. Not only are classical ballet steps performed with a Japanese flair — turned out palms, flexed feet, expressive wrists, etc., but somehow because of the beating of the drums, because of the props, but also because of the way in which they are performed — with speed, with sharpness and a rhythm corresponding to the drums rather than the fluidity and mellifluousness of Western classical music — barrel turns, fouettes, pirouettes — traditional ballet language somehow became brilliantly transformed. It was neither ballet nor traditional Japanese dance, but somehow both; and both were enriched by the combination, rather than being oversimplified and belittled, like Asian dance often is when interpreted by a Westerner. It was really stunning, and I hope this is not the last we’ll see of this ballet.
Anyway, for more on Ananiashvili and the company, go here.