Georgia has a solid connection to ballet, even before the country was swallowed up by the Soviet Union and became a separate country again. Now, its official ballet company is making its way to the United States for the first time in seven years and this year, Lehman Center for Performing Arts will be the only performance in New York City.
State Ballet of Georgia will perform at Lehman on Sunday, April 16, at 6 p.m.
The ballet company will also tour New Orleans, Detroit, Michigan and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At Lehman, the Georgian ballet company presents their triple bill “Mostly B: Serenade,” one of George Balanchine’s most extraordinary masterpieces, music by P.O. Tchaikovsky. Also, they will perform the “Concerto Barocco,” choreography by George Balanchine, music by J.S. Bach and Georgian folk music, Sagalobeli, choreography by Ukrainian native Yuri Possokhov.
Sagalobeli can be translated into “church songs.” The music can be interpreted as contemporary ballet rather than classical, capturing the Georgian character.
The 117-year–old dance company with 64 dancers mixed with men and women based in the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State theater, has made a name for itself. It has traveled the world.
The remarkable aspect of the Georgian Ballet company is its diversity. The ballerinas are not only Georgian. There are least 10 foreigners, including some from Japan and Spain. Next season Americans will join the Georgian company.
Including foreign dancers can be quite the challenge for them, former Bolshoi Prima Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili said. The ballerinas try to find a way to dance Georgian style. However, Ananiashvili claimed the explaining the difference from other forms of ballet is difficult.
The only way to understand is to view it in person.
“Our opera house is quite old with a good tradition and I can say this is really one of the beautiful opera theaters in the world and we have an opera-ballet together, so we share a repertoire,” said Ananiashvili, who joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1981.
The Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater is where Mikhail Fokine’s first groundbreaking choreographic achievement was. Famed student Maria Perini pleased Georgian audiences with “Swan Lake” and eventually shaped Georgia ballet, where she opened the first ballet studio in the country.
Georgia suffered like other European countries that were affected by the collapse of the former Soviet regime.
“It was not a normal life, there was no heat and now we have a beautiful opera house that we restored and modern equipment,” Ananiashvili said.
In 2004 she left the states to return to her home country to lead the State Ballet of Georgia, which she revitalized as the artistic director.
“I love this country,” she said. “I have a lot of fantastic memories about America, they (the company) are like my children and I want to introduce them to a fantastic audience and a warm welcome.”
The prima ballerina history ties run tight with New York City as the native Georgian was the first Soviet ballerina to guest perform with the New York City Ballet, Balanchine’s program in 1988.
“I think my life has changed at that,” she said.
Danish ballet dancer Peter Martins was the artistic director of the New York City Ballet at the time. Ananiashvli’s link with Balanchine was evident as it is today since she adds many of his movements to the company’s repertoire.
In 2009 she was cherished and left colleagues and audience members with affection during a 2009 farewell concert with the American Ballet Theater after her first appearance in 1993.
On stage, she performed a full-length 28-minute “Swan Lake,” which tells the story of a young prince who falls in love with a princess. The princess and her friends turn into swans under a spell by an evil sorcerer. Their days on a lake return to their human form at night.
Can the curse be broken? Of course, but at the cost of true love.
“I never thought to be a ballerina,” she said. “I was ice skating.”
She started at a young age and became the ice-skating champion in her age group. When she was 6, her father took her to Tbilisi to see the Balances ballet program because they were touring in Russia at the time and later performed in Georgia.
Ananiashvili can still remember the color of the ballerinas’ costumes, including the jewels she had never seen before. She also remembered the noise of the pointed shoes and how they walked on stage where she heard the footsteps on the wood floor.
Four years later, she began ballet school.
“It was something like magic in my eyes, and suddenly after four years I decided to move to ballet school and I would think my career would go like this,” she said.
Ananiashvili is the only ballerina honored with the most prestigious international awards: Varna International Competition Gold Medal, Moscow IV International Competition Grand Prix and Gold Medal and the Jackson International Competition Grand Prix. Also, she received the title of “Woman of the Year” was awarded by the American Biography Institute.
“I think I’m a little bit like Cinderella, Ananiashvili said. “I moved to Bolshoi school, then I come to the Balanchine Ballet. The Balanchine theater in New York City is like magic. I don’t know why it happened like this. I never dreamed this because for me it was impossible.”