STATE BALLET OF GEORGIA'S TOUR OF JAPAN 2012

 

NINA'S SWAN QUEEN HAS BECOME A LEGEND

 

This report was contributed by Izumi Takahashi from Japan. We are very grateful to her for sharing her impressions of Nina’s and State Ballet of Georgia’s 2012 Tour of Japan

 

Japan had a relentless heat wave this summer. However, the hottest places in Japan might have been the theatres where Nina appeared. Her interpretation of dual role of Odette and Odile has become iconic. Through the years, the Japanese audience has applauded her Swan Lake with Perm Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and now, State Ballet of Georgia, admiring her sensitive expression and brilliant technique.  Sadly the time has come for us to say goodbye to her Swan Queen.  I think the audience had mixed emotions---delight and sadness uniting the whole theatre and setting the mood for her last Swan Lake performances.

The first performance of SBG’s 2012 Japan tour was June 24 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.  The audience applauded Nina with extra special warmth when she appeared onstage as Odette.  The tempo of the music on June 24 was very slow and I think it was the slowest tempo among recent Swan Lake performances by various ballet companies. Each of Nina’s steps was even more brilliant and steady with slow music.  Each pose sensitively expressed Odette’s emotion and a series of her arabesques was the height of beauty.  Nina and her new partner Denis Matvienko (Artistic Director of Kiev Ballet) created poetic harmony and their pas de deux was like a masterpiece of impressionistic painting.

The most impressive moment for me was Odette’s beaten steps (battu) at the end of the pas de deux---even and amazingly fast---yet delicate as if they were silver ripples under moonlight.  This is one of the reasons why I love to see her Swan Lake over and over.

The audience was amazed as Nina displayed her usual virtuosic level of technique during the Black Swan pas de deux.  Her pirouettes were so clean with the axis solidly centered.  The manège was brilliantly fast and became faster at the last few bars.  The highlight in her technique in Act II was, needless to say, the series of fouettés.  As Nina turned she used port de bras to express the character of the Black Swan, keeping beautiful form through the whole series, and slowing down only at the last turn to strike the final pose, which expressed Odile’s triumph in grabbing the heart of the prince.  A series of glissades and second arabesques at the last part of the coda was especially spectacular.  Her steps and poses were clean and gorgeous under faster tempo of the music and applause of the audience heated up when she finished the movement with good balance in attitude.

The scene returned to the edge of the lake, where Nina expressed Odette’s distress and affection for the prince deeply, especially with her arms and upper body.  I again realized her arms are great story-tellers.  Alexei Fadeyechev’s version ended at a rehearsal room where the principal dancer woke up and saw a vision of Odette.  Nina crossed the stage with pas de bourée, moving her arms like swan’s wings.  I think this scene made the version superb.  It left the audience with a lingering, poetic image and her arms seemed to say that Odette gave absolution to the prince and also gave him energy to live.

The audience cheered wildly and Nina and Matvienko repeatedly appeared to respond to the applause.  Finally the company received a standing ovation from the  more than 2000 ballet lovers in the hall.

The company had another Swan Lake performance on June 27 before they left Tokyo for a tour of other cities.

At this performance, Nina’s Black Swan was even more dazzling compared with the first performance on June 24.  Her movements were more sharp and gorgeous and overwhelmed the audience.  Many ballerinas dance Odile like a little fiend, strongly accentuating her malevolent character, with little hint of Odette’s qualities. I like to see such Odiles and enjoy the contrast with the more lyrical Odette, but, at the same time, I wonder why the prince could believe the Black Swan was Odette.  Nina created Odile as a mysterious, dazzling character, quite different from her Odette, yet full of charm. She deceived the prince with her enchanting smile and dazzling character. At key points, she mimicked Odette’s movements to complete her deception. Her creation is more convincing, making me realize why the prince vowed to marry Odile--- he saw some of  Odette’s characteristics in Odile. Like June 24 performance, the enthusiastic audience gave Nina and the company a standing ovation.

The company moved to Nishinomiya, a convenient location from big cities, Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto.  The third Swan Lake Performance was held at Hyogo Performing Arts Center on June 30 and it was a sold-out performance.

At this performance, I was most impressed by the rapport that had developed between Nina and Matvienko. He and Nina had achieved thorough synchronization in their movements, and his support allowed Nina to feel free and comfortable. Matvienko has excellent technique and beautiful form, and has improved in expressing emotions in keeping with his role, compared to previous performances with the Kiev and other companies. By this third performance, I got the feeling that Matvienko had become a member of “team SBG.” At the curtain calls, he acted graciously as one of the company members.

After Act I was over, the audience around me took a deep breath of admiration with lots of oohs and aahs.  A young couple seated next to me seemed to be seeing Nina for the first time. Honestly, I was a little bit uncomfortable with their chatting through the performance but they kept admiring Nina’s movement, particularly her arms, and repeatedly said “How beautiful she is!”, “Hard to believe she is a human” etc.  Best of all, Nina’s Odette held the audience spellbound. 

The company received a very warm standing ovation.  But this was just the beginning. A sign on a board at the foyer announced Nina’s autograph-signing session after the performance.  About 400 viewers lined up, waiting for Nina for two hours, standing in the drizzling rain to get her signature.  Nina mentioned this incident when she was interviewed by Okinawa Times.  She expressed her sincere thankfulness and also showed her great appreciation for their sincere respect for artists and affection for ballet.

The next performance I saw was at Aichi Prefectural Arts

Theatre in Nagoya on July 13.  Here I was most impressed by the improvement of the corps de ballet .  While this year’s Tokyo performances already showed the corps’ improvement since SBG’s Swan Lake in Taipei, Taiwan, in March 2011, their dancing in Nagoya showed appreciably more unity and musicality. As well, the soloists in the pas de trois in Act I and the folk dances in Act II performed more spectacularly. The audience particularly liked the Spanish dance. The audience gave the company a fervent standing ovation.

The company had Swan Lake performances in Okinawa, located in the most southern part of Japan, on July 3 and 4, Iwakuni on July 7, Kagoshima on July 11 and Shizuoka (the famous Mt. Fuji is located in this prefecture) on July 16.  I missed these performances but want to report briefly based on what I heard.

Instead of Anastasia Matvienko, who was injured, Olga Glitsa from Kiev danced Odette/Odile with Vasil Akhmeteli on July 3 and they reportedly were well accepted by the audience.

Further good news for SBG fans was that a young soloist, Ekaterina Suramava made a smashing debut in Japan, starring as Odette on July 11 at Kagoshima. Viewers appreciated the purity and transparency of her dancing. Nina took the role of Odile in this performance. The company again danced to a sold-out audience in Shizuoka on July 16.

The July 4 performance of Swan Lake in Okinawa turned out to be a highlight of the tour. A core member of Nina’s large group of loyal fans traveled to see it and reported her impressions. I’ve also gathered information from articles in Okinawa Times.

Okinawa City has a good performing arts hall (1545 seats) but the city itself is small with a population of approximately134,000. It is very rare that a foreign ballet company visits the city, especially with an orchestra.  It is even rarer for a world-famous ballerina such as Nina to come and dance Odette/Odile in this southernmost Japanese city---1,600 kilometers from Tokyo. Her epoch- making appearance became big news, and tickets sold out quickly with the highest priced seats going first, which was unusual.

The Okinawa Times covered the event from the company’s arrival and featured an interview with Nina. SBG opened their daily class to the public; Nina gave a talk just before the July 3 performance, which she did not dance.  Due to these, the promoter received more inquiries about tickets for Nina. Finally they made provisions for standing room. Again, this was very unusual.

Due to rarity of the event, Nina fever spread over to the general public, to people who usually are not interested in ballet. The aforementioned fan told me about her conversation with a taxi driver as follows:  He said he greatly, sincerely appreciated that a world famous star came all the way to Okinawa and, considering her fame and the rare opportunity, the cost of the ticket was not expensive at all even if his whole family bought tickets.  Actually his wife and daughter went to see the performance but the driver could not make it because he had to work.

A good audience makes a performance greater.  I believe this was the case on July 4.  The audience welcomed Nina with enthusiasm when she appeared onstage as Odette and it inspired her. She started out in great form and her performance got more and more spectacular corresponding to applause from the audience.  Nina fever became hottest at the curtain call.  All the audience enthusiastically showed their appreciation to Nina and Matvienko with a standing ovation and it was start of the long curtain call.  From my experience, it is very rare that Japanese ballet audience makes standing ovation from the beginning.  So I believe they heartily enjoyed the performance and wanted to express their thankfulness to Nina, Matvienko and the company. 

In her interview by Okinawa Times, Nina talked about her affinity to Okinawa, relating about their history of difficulties (one of the examples is that only Okinawa was occupied by the US after World War II; it was returned to Japan only in 1972) and their own unique culture and tradition, which are similar to her home country, Georgia.  Also, Nina clearly told that she wanted to come back---bringing new ballets while she is still an active dancer.  I felt her sincere affection for Okinawa through the interview. Her sympathy for Okinawa came across to its citizens, which could be one of the factors for Nina fever.

The promoter wants Nina to have performance again in near future.  I really hope so and also hope this can be a good first step of culture exchange between Okinawa and Georgia.

July 19 marked Nina’s farewell to Swan Lake in Japan. On this bittersweet occasion, the audience received a brilliant gift from Nina.  She gave the most marvelous performance of both Odette and Odile. It is hard to find words to describe her Odette---her movements filled with incomparable beauty and each step distinctly accurate while expressing emotion sensitively.  Her movement became like melody and I heard melody even while she took a balance in steady arabesque.  I saw height of classical dance in her Odette.

Even the partnership of Nina and Matvienko became much closer, displaying further strength in both technique and the expression of emotion. Their pas de deux in Act I was like a fantasy scene. It was fantasy but I also felt reality through their expression of deep emotion based on their beautiful coordination of movement.

In Act II, their interaction changed slightly. The beginning of the Black Swan pas de deux became a pas de trois, as Odile first danced with Rothbart as the prince looked at them with unease.  Nina always shows us something different to spark our interest and give us more enjoyment.  Because of this change, I could see the process by which the prince was getting seduced gradually by Odile’s tantalizing charm.

Nina’s Odile was extremely brilliant.  It was heard to believe that she was retiring from Odette/Odile while still maintaining such superb technique.  Her fouettés were faster and cleaner than at any of the other performances which I saw during this tour and she took the longest balance at the coda in attitude pose.

At the last scene, Nina’s Odette left an imprint of perfect beauty---crossing the stage in swift pas de bourée, her arms majestically fluttering like the wings of a swan---before disappearing from the stage. It was the moment when her Swan Queen passed into legend.  I heard some members of the audience sob.

The curtain call must be remembered among ballet fans.  It lasted more than 20 minutes and they said that it was one  of the longest curtain calls in the lifetime of the theatre.

During the historically long curtain call, Nina appeared in front of the curtain countless times, striking different poses with Matvienko supporting her in various lifts. Although I did not hear her, it seemed that Nina said “thank you very much” in Japanese to the audience.  The farewell performance itself was very sad but Nina made everybody happier with her superb performance and heartwarming curtain call.

After the performance, those lucky few who could visit the backstage got another big treat from SBG dancers.  Actually, it was a surprise gift from SBG dancers to their boss, Nina.  Staffers who worked for the SBG Japan tour and friends of Nina were invited to a “special performance”.  Dancers showed us Rachuli Dance. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKn-KjI0a3Q) Additionally, the Black Swan pas de deux by male dancers provoked laughter.

Nina made a brief speech to express her thankfulness after the surprise gift and also happily mentioned that Matvienko  will continue to be a guest artist of SBG, and Nina’s partner.  Matvienko had mentioned at an interview by Japan Arts in March that he has been a great fan of Nina and it would be really lucky if he could dance with her.  After the June 27 performance he said how really exciting it was for him to dance with Nina and that he always felt genuinely happy, likening Nina to a firebird in the sky. So we can see how Nina and Matvienko are developing their partnership closely.

The final day of SBG’s Japan 2012 tour was the occasion for a gala performance on July 21 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, The  special program consisted of:

Sagalobeli – Ballet in one act to Georgian folk melodies

Choreography by Yury Possokhov

Bizet Variations (Pas de Six)

Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; Music by Georges Bizet

Duo Concertant

Choreography by George Balanchine; Music by Igor Stravinsky

Falling Angels

Choreography by Jiri Kylian; Music by Steve Reich

 Marguerite and Armand

Choreography by Frederick Ashton; Music by Franz Liszt

It was really a good opportunity to know more about SBG dancers other than Nina.

Ekaterina Suramava and David Ananeli who danced Duo Concertant gave brilliant impression to both of the audience and critics with their musicality and high quality of the performance.  Some critics predicted that Suramava would be a star dancer of the company in very near future.

Aside from Marguerite and Armand, Sagalobeli was the most acclaimed piece, and it was ballet created for SBG.  Suramava showed beautiful dancing here also, together with Vasil Akhmeteli as they embodied the world of poetry. It went straight to my heart.

Needless to say, the highlight of the program was Marguerite and Armand with Nina and Akhmeteli.  She is a really great actress and expressed delicately, also dramatically, Marguerite’s varying emotions---pleasure, embarrassment, sadness, depression, pure affection to Armand. The most impressive scene was when Marguerite was asked by Armand’s father to break up with his son.  Her body, bending backwards, together with her “dragging” point work dramatically expressed Marguerite’s confusion, depression, heartrending sadness. I truly felt her deeply painful emotion.  If I were asked to list the best 10 of the wealth of brilliant scenes I have seen from Nina’s performances, I would list this without hesitation.  One ballet critic mentioned that Nina was as if she were born to dance Marguerite; I fully agreed.

The audience got heartwarming gift from Nina and the company at the curtain call: A beautiful couple showed us a Georgian folk dance.  Nina appeared onstage with the Georgian flag, now familiar sight at SBG’s last curtain calls.  Whenever I see this, I can’t help but hope for peace and further economic growth in Georgia.

I clearly confirmed the continued good development of SBG dancers, especially through the gala.  In order to make the company world top level, I think more uniformity is required at the corps de ballet level. The company, like many others, could have more capable male dancers.  However, it was notable that the company made improvements during this tour.  So I really hope the company has more and more performances both in Georgia and overseas. (I am afraid the number of their performances has decreased due to the ongoing renovation of their home theatre.)

I think the total ability of the company is more than I saw in Japan this time. We missed some excellent dancers such as Lali Kandelaki, Nino Gogua, Ana Muradeli.

Japanese critics have often said that ballet in 21st century could become ethnic and each company will develop their own folk taste.  They said that Nina and SBG are leading the trend---a point Nina mentioned in her interview with Okinawa Times.

In addition to rehearsals, performances, interviews, Nina spent time to attend a heartfelt welcome reception organized by the Tokyo Georgia Club (about 120 persons attended, including Ambassador). She also gave a lecture at Hosei University, and conducted an audition for  apprentices for SBG.  In spite of such tight schedule, Nina always gave everyone a warm smile and great happiness through her performances.  Nina said that she sincerely appreciated that so many ballet lovers came to see her and it made her very happy.  She added that she is very happy if her audience became happy to see her performances.  We definitely received so much happiness from Nina, Matvienko and the company through the tour.

I put following URL for Nina fans in overseas countries.  All of them are Japanese but you can see Nina’s photos and videos.  Please enjoy!

 

Japan Arts (promoter of SBG Japan tour) Websites

Dress Rehearsal on June 23

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/276858276.html

In Tokyo on June 24

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/277232695.html

In Tokyo on June 27

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/277775224.html

In Okinawa

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/279308951.html

Photos in Iwakuni, Kagoshima, Nagoya and Shizuoka

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/281728345.html

Nina’s last Swan Lake on July 19 in Tokyo

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/282051611.html

Final day, July 21, in Tokyo

http://ja-ballet.seesaa.net/article/282662502.html

 

Japanese TV program which introduced the Embassy of Georgia.  You will see some parts of Nina’s Odette/Odile at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan and a reception for Nina by Tokyo Georgia Club.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZUiBTOcz0w&feature=youtu.be

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRxQ_ltQIiA&feature=youtu.be

 

Photos at Welcome Nina Reception by Tokyo Georgia Club

http://borjomi.jp/georgiaclub/pdf/nina_party2.pdf