(Berkshire On Stage has now published a review of this program.)
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival has announced that the State Ballet of Georgia will perform the provocative Falling Angels and that the company’s leader, Nina Ananiashvili will be performing both at their Gala, and during her company’s engagement.
Ananiashvili and her newly revitalized dance company promises a stunning week of performances at the Pillow. Watching her has been compared to watching a cloud, her air time being that spectacular.
More earthbound is choreographer Jiří Kylián’s Falling Angels a piece for eight starkly clad female dancers in black leotards and ballet slippers. It is an intensely physical contemporary work exploring femininity in which the dancers seem to struggle with maintaining their abstract purity while also accommodating their burgeoning humanity.
It is one of Kylián’s six “black and white ballets”, it is set to the urgent rhythm of Steve Reich’s “Drumming” and praised for its “contorted movements and sheer intensity” (John Rockwell, The New York Times). Kylián was formerly the artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theatre and continues his relationship with the company as a choreographer. His works are in the repertories of more than 80 companies and schools worldwide.
The video embedded below is set on Kylián’s Nederlands Dans Theater but is remarkable not only for its precision but for its brilliant photography. Rarely does film capture dance as well as this one. It is also likely that this ballet’s music required real discipline for the dancers to keep their count and combinations straight.
The State Ballet of Georgia
Needless to say, this is Georgia as in the old Soviet Union, not the one down south. The company will perform in the Ted Shawn Theatre June 23-27. Nina Ananiashvili is a former principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. She directs and dances with her homeland’s national company, which showcases classical and contemporary technique in this engagement.
The program features aforementioned Falling Angels by acclaimed Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, as well as Alexei Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations and George Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, both performed to live music by The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival/Yale School of Music.
The evening begins with four rarely seen pas de deux by Sir Frederick Ashton. Ananiashvili will also perform at the Jacob’s Pillow Season Opening Gala on June 19 in one of ballet’s most iconic roles, The Dying Swan by Mikhail Fokine, with live accompaniment by cello master Yehuda Hanani. It is unlikely there will be a dry eye left in the house.
The State Ballet of Georgia tracks its beginnings back to the 1850s. The company fell into disarray during the 1992 Soviet civil war and in 2004, the president of Georgia (which became an independent state in 1991) extended a request to Ananiashvili to return to her home country and become artistic director of its national ballet company.
As news of her appointment spread, former State Ballet of Georgia dancers who had gone abroad to perform with other ensembles returned to rejoin the company. Ananiashvili has added more than 20 new ballets to the repertoire, restaged classics such as Swan Lake and Don Quixote, works by fellow Georgia native Balanchine, and contemporary ballets by Trey McIntyre and Kylián.
Ella Baff, Executive Director of Jacob’s Pillow, remarks, “Nina Ananiashvili is a dancer of the highest rank. She was asked by the President of Georgia to take on new and great role as the Artistic Director of the Republic’s most important company. Her final performance with American Ballet Theatre last year was met with flowers raining from the audience, piling knee-deep during her many curtain calls. Ms. Ananiashvili is an important artist, her company shines, and they perform works by the best ballet choreographers.”
Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times comments “Nina Ananiashvili has never failed to light up the stage…The star presence she brings to the stage invariably fills every scene with drama.” One of the first Soviet ballerinas to be widely praised by the Western dance world and considered one of the greatest dancers of the past century, she has also performed with New York City Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, and the two British Royal Ballet companies. Her appointment as the State Ballet of Georgia’s artistic director in 2004 was seen as an indication of a promising future for the company, and she retired from American Ballet Theatre in 2009.
While at Jacob’s Pillow, Nina Ananiashvili will serve as guest artist faculty for The School at Jacob’s Pillow’s 2010 Ballet Program. These pre-professional dancers hail from around the world and will also take part in a Master Class led by Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson. As part of their first week of training in the Ballet Program (Program Director, Anna-Marie Homes), they perform a world premiere choreographed by Karole Armitage at the Season Opening Gala on June 19.
The State Ballet of Georgia Program for Jacob’s Pillow
The evening begins with a series of pas de deux by Sir Frederick Ashton, whom Macaulay has identified as one of “the world’s foremost choreographers of classical ballet.” Ashton, noted for his lyrical, soft style, was a prominent neoclassical choreographer and director of England’s Royal Ballet before his death in 1988. After his death, his choreography faded from the repertories of most companies, but was painstakingly recovered from documents created using a complex system of dance notation.
Due to the difficulty of restaging ballets from a written form, his work is rarely performed. The four works on the program include excerpts from Sylvia, “a warmly comic compendium of ballet genres” (Apollinaire Scherr, Financial Times); Voices of Spring, which “effortlessly combines lyricism with attack, and is laced with a playful musical wit“ (Sanjoy Roy, The Guardian); Thaïs, and La Chatte Metamorphosée en Femme, one of Ashton’s last creations before his death.
Also on the program is Alexei Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations, set to Bizet’s dramatic “Chromatic Variations” for piano, performed live at the Pillow. Bizet Variations is a pas de six, echoing Balanchine’s La Valse in the women’s tulle skirts and gloves and atmospherically evocative of a dark ballroom. Ratmansky is currently serving as Artist in Residence for American Ballet Theatre and has created ballets for the Kirov Ballet, New York City Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the State Ballet of Georgia, among others.
George Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, performed to an eponymous Igor Stravinsky score, rounds out the program with onstage live music for piano and violin. The music was a favorite of Balanchine’s, who first heard it in the 1930s but did not choreograph to it until he was preparing for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. The presence of the musicians on stage is integral to the conception of the ballet as the two dancers alternatively listen and dance to the accompaniment, performed by musicians from The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival/Yale School of Music.
Performances are Wednesday, June 23 through Saturday, June 26 at 8pm and Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27 at 2pm. Tickets on sale now online jacobspillow.org, via phone at 413.243.0745 or in person at Jacob’s Pillow.