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The State Ballet of Georgia – Chaconne, Duo Concertant, Bizet Variations, Sagalobeli, Dreams about Japan

by Lori Ortiz
March 1, 2008
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 636-4111
Thirty-nine of Nina Ananiashvili's State Ballet of Georgia's sixty-five dancers fill the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage in Balanchine's opening "Chaconne." This ballet is set to Gluck's music selected from ''Orpheus and Eurydice,'' played live, and lovingly, by the Orchestra of the Tbilisi Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Ananiashvili's phrasing is easygoing. Like a generous host, neither she nor the music is in a rush. Lilting side to side, her look is effortless, like ambling while conversing with the music—slightly weary but never wearying, like the 20th century Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, seen on tape in her later dancing days.

Many know and love Suzanne Farrell's 1976 creation of "Chaconne's" lead ballerina, now on DVD. This SBoG staging is by Bart Cook and Maria Calegari. Reviewing Calegari's debut in that role in 1988, Anna Kisselgoff admired her expressive head and torso, and "dancey" musical performance. Ananiashvili's is notable for those same qualities.

The men wear princely white tights and jackets. The women are ranked by blue or green sequined and circular patterns on their bodices. Tsisia Cholokashvili is a central lead in a trio of women with sage green trim. She is very light on her feet and rises to great heights in entrechat jumps. Her difficult poses and steps in demi-plie, on pointe, are crisp and sure.

Most of the men in this haven't got it down and are better at covering for themselves than keeping up with the women. Vasil Akhmeteli is Ananiashvili's able partner. Her flourish is rond de jambe with her standing leg while lifted. Her legs cycling, she exits in Akmeteli's arms, into the wings— leaving an indelible afterimage.

"Chaconne," with its pageantry, and the next 70s Balanchine work on the program, the black and white "Duo Concertant," are as different as their musical inspirations. Miranda Cuckson beautifully plays Igor Stravinsky's "Duo Concertant" with its complex harmonics and double stops, accompanied by Eric Huebner on piano. Nino Gogua and Lasha Khozashvili look on, trying some steps, then more expansively interpret, finally a love duet invites us in, highlighted by Amiran Ananeli's dramatic lighting. Their arms intertwine, locked in a sort of nuptial slipknot. It's a very credible take on Balanchine. Khozashvili is flexible and natural looking, and as Gogua's movements expand in the playful second section, her feet are incredibly turned out in pirouettes.

Part of the excitement about this company is Ananiashvili's wise choice of choreographers, and all with Russian, or better yet Georgian roots. Balanchine is Tsilibi born. No one wondered if it would work. The quality is about as high as you can get.

Former Bolshoi artistic director and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky's style could be called neo-romantic, and includes flashes of delightful humor. "Bizet Variations" is a septet. Nino Ochiauri and Maya Dolidze double in sisterly camaraderie, holding hands across the floor on a diagonal. Dolidze launches into the air in bright pirouettes on opening night. Ananiashvili enters later in a long dress. The men partner one or the other competitively. Finally they chase after them, reaching their feet as if they are sliding into home base. Muttered chuckles escape in the audience. Then they gallop heavily into the wings, leaving Ananiashvili alone and small. In the end the lights go out on three sculpted formations. Ratmansky's vocabulary is cued to the changing moods of George Bizet's "Chromatic Variations."

Ananiashvili offered San Francisco Ballet principal, Ukraine-born Yuri Possokhov the challenge of making a ballet to "Sagalobeli," the Georgian national folk tune. His added benefit was a group of men who are wonderful folk dancers and acrobats. The Sagolobeli Ensemble play live in the pit, in full regalia including sheathed antique swords. The male dancers wear boots and sepia tights and tunics. The women wear long silky beige costumes with a sort of airline logo appliqué that expresses the region and its surrounding cultural influences—Turkish, middle-eastern, etc.

The women bourree across the stage, silhouetted against a warm yellow cyclorama. Later they dance in a powdery mist of beige. They whirl in varying counterpoint, not quite unison, though occasionally stopping in sculpted groups, identically posed, that reiterate the calligraphic patterns in the choreography and on their elegant costumes by Anna Kalatozishvili. They are enigmatic, classical, pausing near the foot of the stage before exiting into the first wing. An epic love duet, to lute plucking, proceeds with mounting intensity, in measured cadence. In the end the men extend rod-straight legs, in pointed boots, every which way.

Possokhov succeeds in sweeping us into Georgian history in his visage of quasi folk-balletic theater. This is audience participation at its best.

Finally, in the March 1, Program B, a second Ratmansky work replaces "Chaconne," completing the breadth of esoteric exoticism in this engagement. "Dreams about Japan" premiered in 1998 on seven Russian ballet stars including Ananiashvilli. The odd number, in different colorful kimonos, makes for interesting asymmetrical choreography and narrative that diverges from convention. This is contemporary "Japanisme" that draws its vocabulary from modern, ballet, and Japanese traditional forms, to drumming and percussive vocals in music by Kodo—performed by orchestra members.

One of "Dream's" six dances, Dojoji, is inspired by the well known noh play. Ananiashvili turns into a fire snake after being spurned by a lover. She strips to a red unitard and dances with a long red scarf with black fringes, one black long glove and one red. Her spread fingers cast sparkling vengeance. There is a New Year's Lion Dance in which a male dances to exhaustion and then plays dead. Irakli Bakhtadze might be a solid, corporeal looking death figure in black. It's all performed in front of a glowing sun that changes colors for each dance.

They stand in the center watching a male en manège. Their heads follow him round the 360 degrees. We connect intimately with the circusy "Dreams'" carbonated movement and off-kilter phrasing, and we let its ancient, exotic inspirations lead us happily into its universal core.

If it's the most interesting new venture in the ballet world seen in New York recently, the Georgian troupe isn't faultless. Modern falls and use of the floor trips them up. And there was the mass stage fright opening night among the men in "Chaconne."

The story of the four-year-old company's hard-won success is well-publicized, and New Yorkers relate. Their imminent return to BAM is already anxiously anticipated. The Opera House stage is a perfect size for the Georgian troupe and they look at home in Brooklyn's co-coexisting cultures.
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