During a casual
conversation just as she was contemplating the artistic directorship of State Ballet of
Georgia (SBG), Nina told me that among her plans for the company would be a program of
Balanchine. But back then, in June, 2004, she believed that the dancers would not be ready
for the challenges of the masters choreography for at least a few seasons.
discipline and rigorous daily routine Nina has insisted on from day one already has paid
off, because SBG has just triumphantly presented its first all-Balanchine evening. The
ambitious program ranged from the classical Apollo (1928), the lyrical Serenade
(1934) to the rambunctious Western Symphony (1954)---that tribute to the spirit of
the American Wild West.
The May 19, 2005 premiere,
naturally, did not happen without a lot of hard work. Repetiteurs from the
Balanchine Trust---in this case the New York City Ballet veteran stars Maria Calegari and
Bart Cook---alighted in Tbilisi weeks before the premiere to imprint Balanchine technique and
style on the Georgians.
From 1974 through 1994,
Calegari commanded the stage as one of New York City Ballets treasures. A
stunning exemplar of the Balanchine ballerina, the long-limbed redhead combined
strength, speed and technical panache with an alluring presence and unmistakable glamour.
She was a delightful Titania in A Midsummer Nights Dream and a romantic ideal
Cook, who joined NYCB
in 1971, became a specialist in Balanchines black and white
neo-classical creations, particularly the Melancholic variation in The Four
Temperaments. He was also memorable in Rubies, Square Dance and Union
Jack. In 1993, he played Herr Drosselmeier in the film version of Mr. Bs The
In a telephone
interview after their return to the U.S., Maria and Bart graciously shared their experiences for the
benefit of this website.
Bart arrived some six
weeks before the May opening date---and started work on Western Symphony right off.
Maria followed two weeks later, and primarily helped shape (or in this case, re-shape), Serenade.
Both artists collaborated on getting Apollo onstage.
Following are their
lightly edited responses to my questions.
Q: How did you
find Tbilisi? The Georgians?
Bart: I really
enjoyed myself. The Georgians are fascinating people. They are spontaneous and
exceptionally creative. I discovered that they are very responsive to music and I
came to realize that Balanchine was Georgian through and through. He was born there, but
although he did not grow up in Georgia, his parents must have instilled that spirit in him.
Q: How did you find the
dancers, the company?
Bart: The dancers
were technically well trained. They [displayed] a lot of individuality and creativity. I
found I had to try to rope in that individuality and use the creativity. My biggest
problem was the individualism.
was intent on making it good. Everyone was kind and committed.
Q: I understand there
were some problems with Serenade.
had tried to prepare them by teaching the company a somewhat older version of it.
[Balanchine continued to refine his ballets over the years.] So I had to deconstruct
it---to correct steps, positions in order to shape it into the version currently danced at
NYCB. It was difficult to undo. They would learn the proper way one day, and the next they
would go back to the wrong one. But it all came together for the premiere.
It was a strain on the
dancers----everything had to be done so fast---4-1/2 weeks altogether. We started working
one week before the premiere of their new Don Quixote---and then we lost another
day because of George Bushs visit to Georgia---we could not get to the theater.
Q: Was it
difficult to communicate?
there were translators, much was still lost in translation. We had taught in Perm before, so we had
picked up a bit of Russian. But many of the dancers spoke nothing but Georgian, and the
translators were not ballet people, so that was a bit of a problem.
Q: How did you approach
teaching Balanchine style? Were there special warm up exercises or classes just to get the
bodies ready for the requirements of Balanchine?
Bart: Not this
time---you explain technique as you go along. There simply wasnt time. Perhaps next
Maria: We worked
straight from to , with ten-minute breaks. The dancers didnt quite have the
stamina---they were so tired since they were preparing for Don Q as well.
Q: How did you
cast the ballets. Were there any particular dancers you liked?
Maria: There was
a boy [Lasha Khozashvili], a natural for Apollo---beautiful like Michelangelos
David with a nymph-type face. He also had a pretty good technique. And
there was girl---Nino Gogua--- with dark Georgian hair [she] had the body, feet, extension
that even Suzanne Farrell would envy. She also had a natural feminine grace. Of course her
technique has some ways to go, but she has such great potential.
was a girl---Nino Gogua, quite green, not much stage experience and she needs to develop
strength. But she came through when she had to substitute for injured colleagues. And
there were the other ballerinas Tsicia [Cholokashvili], Lali [Kandelaki], Anna.
Q: How was the audience
reaction? Did you get the impression that there was particular pride in bringing
Bart: Yes, there
were many interviews with dance critics and historians. The presentation itself was very
moving---the curtain had that famous full figure image of Mr. B pointing down to his
foot---illustrating a step.
The audience seemed
particularly to enjoy Western Symphony---it was rhythmic and fun---I think they
could relate to it because of their folk dance tradition.
Maria: We stayed
for all three performances. After the premiere, I got kissed so many times by so many
people---I dont think I have ever been kissed so many times before in my life.
cooperated to make sure it was a success. The costumes and sets for Western Symphony
were particularly wonderful. I was told that the seamstresses were locked in their
workplace for the last 48 hours before the premiere---to make sure nobody bothered them as
they were frantically finishing the costumes!
Q: So, would you go
back for more?
Bart: Yes, there
are already plans for the next Balanchine evening. If all goes well, perhaps in November,
SBG will do Mozartiana, Chaconne and Four Temperaments.