(Slideshow Photos: Kristi Pitsch)
Traveling from the Caucasus region of Europe, Nina Ananiashvili has brought the State of Georgia’s revitalized ballet company to Becket and the Berkshires for a week’s residence. Ananiashvili was born there, and rose to fame as Prima Ballerina of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre, and from 1993 to 2004 was a principal of the American Ballet Theatre. She left ABT to become the Artistic Director of the State Ballet of Georgia. This visit to Jacob’s Pillow provided not only a chance to measure the company’s progress, but also an overview of some of the most important choreography of the past six decades.
Summary in Georgian:
ამ ვიზიტის Jacob’s ბალიში უზრუნველყოფს არა მხოლოდ შანსი გავზომოთ კომპანიის პროგრესი, არამედ მიმოხილვა ზოგიერთი ყველაზე მნიშვნელოვანი ქორეოგრაფიის გასული ექვსი ათეული წლის განმავლობაში.
Opening the program was the Sylvia Pas de Deux from 1952, a duet complete with variations. From the third act of the ballet it is in the top ten greatest dances Frederick Ashton ever created . It begins with a beautiful lift in which Sylvia is carried on stage, supported upright, half-kneeling on her partner’s shoulder. Then, with three “fish dives” in the first five minutes, it is evident that this work is all cherries, no filler. Anna Muradeli and Otar Khelashvili worked well together, though not as fluidly as one would hope. Khelashvili’s build was a reliable asset for supporting his partner, while it kept his aerial work from reaching applause generating heights.
La Chatte saw Lana Mghebrishvili become both a cat and a wily female in this 1985 Ashton work that is one of the bon bons often served at ballet fundraising galas. The wonderful costume of white feathers was inspired by the Elssler original. The clever footwork – especially the unique petite battu simulating a feline stretch – made the cat believable, right down to the fur balls shedding from her costume. The audience loved it.
Thaïs Pas de Deux finally brought NIna Ananiashvilli to the Pillow stage, partnered by David Ananeli. Ashton put this together in 1971 for Royal Ballet stars Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. Meant to recall the great Pavlova, the gestures and styles used recalled that earlier era.
Rounding off the first part of the program was the final Ashton offering, Voices of Spring Pas de Deux from 1977 set on a Johann Strauss waltz. Lali Kandelaki and Vasil Akhmeteli were the first dancers of the evening to evoke the famed Balanchine look, young, lithe and lovely. Both were able to nail their preparations and landings with great accuracy. The flow of steps from one segment to the next was smooth and polished. You felt their trust in one another, and saw it too.
For the middle third, the program left traditional ballet and moved on to its development as a modern art form. Duo Concertant, created by George Balanchine in 1972 brought live music onto the stage with Jeannette Fang (piano) and David Southorn on violin rendering the Stravinsky piece. At first the dancers stand by the piano, watching one player or another before finally moving to center stage and starting to dance. Here Balanchine allows for an organic development of the steps, using many everyday movements. Nino Gogua and Sebastian Kloborg were the perfect couple, moving together and apart as lovers might do; courting, quarreling, teasing, and in the end joining together forever. Actually there is no official narrative, but that is what I got.
The Bizet Variations Pas de Six from 2008 was the only piece that seemed to be out of place. With choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, and costumes by Mikhail Makharadze, there was a sameness to all the dancers and movements. To me, it was sort of like what happens in A Chorus Line when everyone puts on identical costumes and employs the same (or in this case similar) steps. There is no individuality. Even with a distinctive costume, Nina Ananiashvili just seemed like one of the six, though her perfect legs and technique stood out as one would expect. Never having seen this piece before, and expecting something special, the choreography disappointed.
ჩაშვების ანგელოზები ჩანდა, როგორც ახალი და ინოვაციური, როგორც დღეს ეს იყო შექმნილი.
After another pause the pièce de résistance was performed, Falling Angels which was created in 1989 by the immensely talented Jiri Kylian. Though the piece is now as old as some of those dancing it, it looked as fresh and innovative as the day it was created. About 18-20 minutes long, and set to “Drumming” by Steve Reich, it is a wondrous work for the stage. Eight dancers, identically dressed, are anything but a chorus line. They worked both together and independent of one another, at times in succession, and at others in unison.
(You can see some video of this work in the earlier preview of this engagement.)
Combinations were built, passed along, transformed and reversed in rapid succession, in what seems to have been a totally unpredictable order. Of course this is no random dance, it is one that requires intense concentration as the constantly shifting beats of the drumming keep changing. Those changes are reflected in the movements of the dancers. Only towards the very end when the beats were exceptionally hard to predict did the perfection of the ensemble loosen slightly.
In an evening with few fancy scenic or technical touches, here the lighting was a ninth player. Forming a checkerboard on the floor, or channels of light in which hands and heads were immersed, the work was very theatrical. Best of all, it was able to sustain audience interest for the duration since it never repeated the identical idea twice. Each successive phrase was a variation. Falling Angels by itself is enough reason to see this company, but with the excellent choice of program, this initial offering at Jacob’s Pillow is actually a short introduction to the history of dance. Don’t miss it.
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 at jacobspillow.org, via phone at 413.243.0745 or in person at Jacob’s Pillow.