|A Russian Touch Delivered Lovingly, With Gusto|
|November 07, 2011|
By BRIAN SEIBERT
These days for a foreign company to bring a program of ballets by the Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky to New York is to invoke the cliché about hauling coals to Newcastle. You can’t avoid his product here, and a contract at American Ballet Theater guarantees more through 2023.
But Nina Ananiashvili, the Georgian ballerina, isn’t just any supplier. A beloved guest with Ballet Theater until two years ago, Ms. Ananiashvili championed Mr. Ratmansky before he was on top, at the end of the last century, at the Bolshoi Ballet. So if the august Mariinsky Ballet can offer New York almost nothing but Ratmansky, as it did on a visit this summer, so can Ms. Ananiashvili’s plucky State Ballet of Georgia. That’s what happened when the company performed on Saturday night at Avery Fisher Hall.
The Georgian troupe, which Ms. Ananiashvili has been directing since 2004, even has a Ratmansky ballet all its own, “Bizet Variations,” from 2008. The other two selections came from the knew-him-when period: “Charms of Mannerism” (1997) and “Dreams About Japan” (1998), both of which Mr. Ratmansky created for the Bolshoi. He has made much better ballets, but these are all worth watching.
New to New York, “Charms of Mannerism” is an early example of a characteristic Ratmansky mode, an affectionate satire of ballet conventions that renews those conventions. Set to music by François Couperin, the dance for four is partly a formal exercise in solos, duos, trios and quartets. It also becomes a comedy somewhere between “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a Beaumarchais plot, with magic spells, whispered secrets and lovers swapping partners.
The Ratmansky touch is the convincing, lightening mix of cogent classical syntax with moves that might have been borrowed from the Supremes. The level of detail is wonderful. When the dancers mime riding horses, they each do it in a different way.
Ms. Ananiashvili and her dancers played the satire straight, committing to — rather than commenting on — the sent-up gestures. She did not dance in “Bizet Variations,” and unlike some aging stars, the 48-year-old Ms. Ananiashvili demonstrated no fear of ceding the stage to beautiful young dancers. “Bizet” is Romantic, a pas de six in which a dancer’s entrance turns the heads of the opposite sex. The dance’s drama responds to the music closely, including a shaded moment of hesitation before the tidy finish. The Georgians took to it in the grand manner.
“Dreams About Japan” is a lively bit of japonaiserie, based on four Kabuki plays. The Georgian orchestra members, onstage in Japanese hachimaki headbands, played the drum-heavy score with gusto. Mr. Ratmansky’s setting of bravura ballet steps to Japanese percussion has an estranging, enlivening effect, though aspects of the dance, like the disco lights at the end, probably go over better in Moscow and Tbilisi. In one solo a rejected maiden (Ms. Ananiashvili) turns into a fire snake; in another a man (Philippe Solano) plays a mournful girl. Mr. Solano, a taut classicist, is a real find.
The State Ballet of Georgia looks improved all around since its last New York appearance in 2008. Perhaps it was the choice of roles, but Ms. Ananiashvili, famous for her naturalness, seemed to have grown a little mannered, though her technique remained solid. Her rendition of the “Dying Swan,” and its automatic encore, were rituals between her and ecstatically adoring fans, as were the many bows at the evening’s close. Ms. Ananiashvili took in the adoration like air, her pride more than personal as she carried the Georgian flag. She bears the standard of her small nation well.
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