STATE BALLET OF GEORGIA 2007
There is an exquisite Georgian pastry called “ecstasy,” composed of layers of sponge cake, crème fraiche and rose hips or lemon preserve, topped by a delicately crunchy meringue. The pleasure of tasting the mixture of flavors and textures is not unlike the experience of watching a great dancer put together a performance---delectable footwork, delicious port de bras, fabulous extensions, explosive jumps, heart-stopping spins. Such a performance was onstage once again on April 19, 2007, when Nina Ananiashvili, the great Georgian ballerina, returned to the stage as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. (Nina had taken time off for two years to produce what she calls her “greatest achievement,” a baby girl named Helene.)
The packed Paliashvili Opera and Ballet State Theatre witnessed a performance that erased any doubts about Nina’s commitment to pick up where she left off---at the top of her magnificent form. Her entrance at the start of Act I, Scene 2, was both lyrical and majestic. Here indeed was a Swan Queen to capture Prince Siegfried’s heart at first glance. The eloquence of her arms and fingers, the delicacy of her steps on pointe, the perfection of her poses were all in place and in service of making Odette tragically touching. Her adagio pas de deux with Siegfried (Vasil Akhmeteli) expressed hope, love and fear in ever-changing details. Over the years, Nina’s Odette has evolved to express more emotion---here the flicker of her leg beats suggested wariness, her subtly changing head positions doubt and hope. Finally her slowly arching backward swoons into the Prince’s arms signaled her love and trust. In these details, there was added a sense of vulnerability I had not observed before.
In contrast, her Act II Odile was all assured allure. Sharp pointe work, abrupt changes of direction and more acutely angled arm and hand positions defined her character. This Odile cleverly moderated her arm movements only when she wanted to completely beguile Siegfried into believing she was the gentle Odette. And yes, the 32 fouettés were executed brilliantly and triumphantly.
The State Ballet of Georgia’s version of this perennial favorite hews closely to the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov original, performed complete in two acts and four scenes. Alexei Fadeyechev, credited as choreographer-producer, has meticulously excised later emendations, so we are spared the Jester, the peasants in Act I and other extraneous elements. The simple and effective Petipa/Ivanov choreography for Act IV has also been restored. What Fadeyechev has added is a poetic framework for the ballet.
ACT I, Scene 1
In a mirror-backed rehearsal studio, costumes for the soloists and principals are being delivered and tried on. The Pas de Trois, excellently performed by N. Makhashvili, T. Akhobadze and A. Ivanov, start the dancing, followed by the courtiers in a Polonaise. The Ballet Master (Irakli Bakhtadze, who also plays the Evil Genius, Rothbart) asks the principal male (Akhmeteli) to practice his solo, and leaves, still dissatisfied. The principal, upset, repeats his variations, then exhausted, sits down on the studio floor and falls into reverie.
ACT I, Scene 2
He dreams that he has become Prince Siegfried and finds himself on the banks of a mysterious, moonlit lake, where bewitched swan maidens rise up before him. Framed by an alley of trees whose branches intertwine at the top, members of SBG’s corps de ballet move in meaningful unison, as if breathing as one. Heads, arms, legs and bodies align in the classic poses with ease and natural grace. The Four Swans performed their number with charming éclat, the Three Swans (N. Gogua, M. Iluridze, E. Chubinidze) danced their variations with verve. Akhmeteli was a darkly handsome Siegfried; he danced more than capably although he was understandably nervous partnering such a distinguished Swan Queen as Nina. He was more careful than ardent, but he made his vow of fidelity with conviction.
ACT II, Scene 3
In the castle’s richly gilded blue Gothic ballroom, the Queen Mother receives guests, including a bevy of noble maidens from foreign courts. The Prince is expected to choose one as his bride. Each is introduced to him and he graciously dances with each in turn, but he is listless, his mind only on Odette. Suddenly, a mysterious knight (Rothbart) arrives, accompanied by a ravishingly beautiful girl. It is Odile, who is the double of Odette except that she is dressed all in black. Siegfried is deceived into thinking she is his beloved, and he swears his love to her, choosing her as his bride. At that moment, Rothbart shows him a vision of the real Odette, weeping at his betrayal.
ACT II, Scene 4
A deep gloom envelops the banks of the lake where Odette brings the sad news of Siegfried’s broken vow. The swans dance in grievous silence, resigned to their fate. Siegfried, deeply distressed, runs in to ask forgiveness, but it is in vain. Rothbart appears to thwart any further pleading, and the Prince collapses after they fight…
The scene returns to the rehearsal studio, where dancers enter to find the principal asleep on the floor. They wake him and leave, while he tries to recapture the image of Odette---who flits across the stage unseen by him---fading into oblivion.
Aside from Nina’s brilliantly modulated performance, it was such a joy to see SBG’s straightforward production. The simple and atmospheric sets and lighting provided just the right magical frame for this masterpiece. This is probably as close as one can get to Petipa’s intentions nowadays.
Amazing also is the work of the corps de ballet, which can hold its own among the world’s best as far as beauty of line, uniformity of style and movement are concerned. The homegrown principals and soloists are of delightfully high caliber. The excellent morale and performance quality of the ensemble is a tribute to their training and the regimen Nina, as artistic director, has put the company through during the last three years.