"Charms of Mannerism," "Bizet Variations," "Swan," "Dreams about Japan"
Nina Ananiashvili and State Ballet of Georgia
Avery Fisher Hall
New York, NY
November 5, 2011
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2011 by Carol Pardo
You can come home again; at least Nina Ananiashvili can come back to New York whenever she wants. Beloved as a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, from which she retired in 2009, she was no less beloved this time out, as the marquee name and director of the State Ballet of Georgia. New Yorkers are almost as hungry for the works of Alexei Ratmansky, resident choreographer at A.B.T. and in demand everywhere else. The company, represented by ten of its leading dancers, and its director had the sense to give ‘em what they want: Nina three times in one night and three chamber works by Ratmansky, made for her, that you won’t see anywhere else.
Is theatricality a form of mannerism (or Mannerism)? In "Charms of Mannerism" characters from the commedia dell'arte crossed paths with the lovers from "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" often changing character on a dime and always consciously performing for their audience both on stage and across the footlights. The antic momentum was not initially apparent. The first segments were dry and isolated like a necklace in which each pearl is separated from the next by an oversized knot. The prospect of marching in lockstep through all sixteen pieces by François Couperin was dispiriting. But once the momentum of the music was unleashed, "Charms of Mannerism" skittered, gamboled and bounced hither and yon to the finish. The ballet, one of Ratmansky’s earliest, was made in 1997, but his preoccupations with the melding of balletic and natural gesture, the meeting point and tipping point between abstraction and narrative, are already evident. And, he makes his dancers look good though William Pratt was overpowered by the demands of his early solo. Vasil Akhmeteli is a thoughtful partner and strong presence, the reliable member of the team that every company both needs and wants. (The company needed him here; he got to sit out "Swan" only.) Lali Kandelaki’s performance, with her sharp pointes, fine line and verve, made me want to see more of her, in larger scale works on a stage meant for dancing. Rounding out the quartet, Ananaishvili did as she has always done, shared the stage and put the ballet before the ballerina.
"Dreams about Japan" mixes content from four Kabuki plays their themes of love, vengeance and death with the flavor of a circus arena and adds a percussion score here played live on stage. It continues Ratmansky’s ruminations on theatricality again using overlapping incident (among other things) as a device. I lost one track of the section with the most involved narrative, but there was no mistaking Philippe Solano’s gender-bending turn as a girl, nor the debt owed to Bournonville’s "Kermesse in Bruges" in the telling of a man forced to dance to death and infecting anyone who touched him with the same fate. But Ananiashvili in scarlet from neck to toe slithering across the stage, her arms focused on her prey like the barrel of a gun, was frightening and otherworldly.
"Bizet Variations," from 2008, might well be called "In the Twilight". Three couples come together, the relationships between them sketched, inferred, fluid. It is Ratmansky’s reations to Balanchine’s statement the presence of a man and a woman on stage creates a story. But the ballet doesn’t go anywhere. Ratmansky shows that his chosen music, Bizet’s "Chromatic Variations," played live by Tamar Matchavariani, is dance music, but the ballet which would do it justice remains just out of reach. The strongest moments were at the beginning as the dancers progressed upstage, each looking back, like flashing lights, to confirm our attentiveness. Thereafter everyone was swallowed up in the impending darkness. Ananiashvili sat out "Bizet Variations," ceding her created role to a younger colleague, but even had she danced it, the ballet would still have come up short.
To give ‘em what they really wanted, there was "Swan" the staging credited to Raissa Struckhova, the choreography uncredited, though "Swan" is in fact two versions of Fokine’s "Dying Swan" and too much of a good thing. Ananiashvili’s arms out-Plisetskaya-ed Maya. That wingspan seems too big for the dancer’s body and too forceful for a dying bird. The colored lights during the bows were too much and the sight of Ananiashvili wrapped in the Georgian flag made me queasy. The flag was unnecessary; Georgians had already claimed our affection, by dancing.