A Long Road From Georgia to BAM

gottlieb ninaananiashvili1v A Long Road From Georgia to BAMRoads paved with good intentions don’t always lead to Hell—often they go straight to BAM. So it is with the recently refurbished State Ballet of Georgia, now under the leadership of the internationally famous ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, originally from the Bolshoi and a favorite here in New York from her 15 years as an occasional principal at ABT.

In her four years in charge, Ananiashvili has mounted more than 20 ballets, including nine by Balanchine (in 1988 she danced several Balanchine ballets at New York City Ballet), and she has bravely brought two of her Balanchine works to Brooklyn—talk about good intentions! The results, though, were mixed.

Chaconne, with which she opened her season, is not one of Balanchine’s greatest works, although the music, by Gluck, is sublime. The ballet’s success depends on a projected aura of Elysian calm—and on two grand performers, two divinities. Back in 1976 they were Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, at the height of their divine powers. Ananiashvili is a lovely dancer—small, lyrical, classical, musical; she was at her best in the first, human-scale duet. In the second duet—formal, imposing—both she and her partner, Vasil Akhmeteli, remained human-scale. No sweep, no real expansiveness—no grandeur. So the ballet melted away. The fussy costumes didn’t help, and the company as a whole, trying hard, looked nervous and wan.

Duo Concertant, the other Balanchine venture, was far more satisfying, with Nino Gogua demonstrating a true aptitude for Balanchine style: She’s quick, defined, musical; her beautifully arched feet and supple back add to her dance glamour; she moves. Alas, her performance was marred—at times, almost deformed—by the smiles, coy glances, moues, and haughty stares that chased each other across her face. This grimacing would have been horrible under any circumstances; in this pure yet playful piece, all about the two dancers’ unaffected response to the Stravinsky score that is being performed onstage by a violinist and pianist, it went beyond sacrilege. Gogua was selling—already a crime in most Balanchine—and she wasn’t even selling the ballet or the music: She was selling herself. Her partner, Lasha Khozashvili, is a less remarkable dancer but was far more relaxed and appropriate. And yet … I can’t wait to see Gogua in more Balanchine. Let’s hope it’s not too late to break her of her affectations, and that Ananiashvili has the will to do it.

Gogua was also effective in something called Sagalobeli, newly choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, the resident choreographer at San Francisco Ballet. (He’s another old Bolshoi hand.) What I’ve previously seen of his work was pretentious and dreary. Sagalobeli is harmless, unless you’re allergic to what I think of as ethnic-on-pointe. Seven men and seven women tear through an extended series of more or less unrelated episodes—all of them generic and none as interesting or rousing as the traditional Georgian folk music provided by the Sagalobeli Ensemble. When the musicians trooped onto the stage for a curtain call, the audience’s enthusiasm rose to a deserved high pitch. Of course, the audience, largely made up of local Russian/Georgian enthusiasts, was never at a pitch much lower than high. …

Ananiashvili’s other canny and worthy tactic was importing two works by Alexei Ratmansky, who has replaced Christopher Wheeldon as ballet’s Great New Hope. In the past weeks we’ve had his Russian Seasons at City Ballet and his Pierrot Lunaire for Vishneva, and there’s a new work for City Ballet promised for the spring.

Ratmansky’s Dreams about Japan was created for Ananiashvili and other luminaries at the Bolshoi 10 years ago. It’s very Japanese indeed—reconfiguring in dance terms a group of Kabuki-like stories, and performed to a heavily percussion-inflected score. Bang, bang, bang go the percussionists of the Tbilisi Theatre of Opera and Ballet; thump, thump, thump go the feet of the dancers—or at least some of them. Ananiashvili herself is less assertive and more sinuous and sinister in “Musume Dojoji” (“Maiden of the Dojoji Temple”) when, scorned by her lover, a temple monk, she becomes a Fire Snake and takes vengeance.

The stories are all like that: abandonment, suicide, frenzy. The costumes are hectic, the energy likewise. You can see the nascent talent in what Ratmansky has done—and the young man’s impulse to throw everything into the pot. His flamboyant Dreams about Japan may not be a keeper, but it serves as an example of how classical ballerinas love going dramatic.

The most interesting thing about Ratmansky’s new piece is the music, Bizet’s “Chromatic Variations.” (That’s why the ballet is called Bizet Variations.) I haven’t come across anyone who was aware of this challenging, exciting work for piano, although it turns out there’s a Glenn Gould recording available. Ratmansky has made a plausible and pretty ballet for three couples, but it’s tame compared to the music. This is both an ensemble piece and an Ananiashvili vehicle—she’s a first among equals: The other couple are in blue; she and her partner, Nino Ochiauri, are more purplish. Also, she has an Entrance, and a solo spot toward the end, before she’s swept away with the others. The role isn’t very demanding, and her piquant romanticism is just right for what Ratmansky has handed her. That’s what an expert choreographer does for his star (and, in this case, his boss).

It’s hard to be critical of an ambitious, reinvigorated company taking such risks and meaning so well. But the Georgians aren’t yet big-time. It might have been wiser of them to wait a few years before taking that road to BAM.