IMPRESSIONS OF NINA, A SUMMER 2000 JOURNEY
following is a ballet diary of a Japanese fan, Izumi Takahashi,
who travelled to the U.S. specifically to watch Nina dance with various companies in the
summer of 2000
"Nina Ballerina", how sweet a nickname it is! I think people include their affection and admiration in it. Yes, Nina Ananiashvili is a great ballerina who can create various worlds with her artistry, technique and emotion. From the end of May to late September 2000, I enjoyed several of her performances in the U.S.
In La Sylphide (American Ballet Theater, May 25 at New York's Metropolitan Opera), Nina was really a creature of the air. I perceived an atmosphere around her that was otherworldly, not human. So I felt a magic world from the very beginning, even when she was not moving at all. Her knowledge of Bournonville style is remarkable---it showed in the way she carried her upper body and her arms. Also, her jump was high and light and it was amazing that I did not hear any sound when she landed. It is a very important skill particularly for this ballet. (With other dancers, I was sometimes disappointed when I heard "sound of landing" because I had to come back to the human world with it.) When Nina turned, it was as if I could actually feel a gentle breeze as she seemed to float in the air. Along with her technique, her acting completed the picture of a charming, coquettish sylphide. The most impressive scene was when the sylphide lost her wings and was dying. Though showing human emotions, the character's fragility convinced us that it was indeed a sylphide that died.
Shakespeare would have been very pleased had he seen Nina's Juliet (Bolshoi Ballet, May 30 at Washington's Kennedy Center). She expressed changes in Juliet's emotions with her eloquent turns, jumps and arms. At the beginning, she was a young, sheltered girl who seemed satisfied with her life. Her jumps and turns showed Juliet's innocence and happiness as an ordinary young girl. However, the nuances of her jumps and turns became different as the drama progressed. It expressed her true love, passion, confusion, decision---and this is the reason why I think Nina is a very dramatic ballerina. As a professional ballerina, it may be easy to express a character's emotion by facial expressions and arm movements, but I think few ballerinas can express her emotion by each jump and turn.
The most impressive part for me was movement of Juliet's arms toward the window where Romeo had gone. She did the movement several times but each nuance was different. Firstly, it expressed Juliet's anxiety to see Romeo again. Then it changed to her confidence in seeing him again and finally, her strong decision to determine her life by herself. I clearly remember the scene and this is one of the reasons why I would like to see Nina's Juliet again and again. Her beauty also impressed me when Romeo lifted Juliet in the last scene. She did not move but the atmosphere was noble and religious, as on a Russian icon. Nina was really a soulful Juliet.
After seeing this performance, with Nina partnered by Andrei Uvarov, I found myself missing Alexei Fadeyechev, because he and Nina formed a more wonderful partnership. As a couple they showed more emotion and I could "hear" their conversation throughout the performance.
Nina brought Spanish sunshine and a Mediterranean breeze to the role of Kitri. She was very charming, bright, cheerful, active and friendly. I felt very close to her and it was as if I were a friend of Kitri. Throughout the performance, Nina created a festive atmosphere and showed joy of love and life with her jumps and turns. Some people may consider that dancers who have strong technique can perform Kitri well. Indeed, strong technique is required for this ballet and Nina has it, but the technique is just one of the tools required to express Kitri's character. Good acting and a sense of humor is essential for this ballet. I heard it is more difficult to be a good comedienne than a heroine of a tragic story. An audience can be amazed with strong technique but it would only be an emply display of technique if the dancer cannot show Kitri's relationship to Basil, her father and Gamache. In the final act, the pas de deux was full of joy (at last they married!!) and the audience shared the couple's happiness. Nina's technique was, needless to say, spectacular, and her tutu was so beautiful when she did her fouttés. I like her fouettés because she can express character with it. She does fouettés as Kitri, as Odile and as Medora. Of course, she turns fast---with strong balance---but more importantly, she can define each character by the nuances of her fouettés.
I cannot forget Act II. In this dream scene, she showed the highest level of classical ballet technique and graceful movement and it showed she is the queen of ballerinas. Some ballerinas leave the stage after a sequence of turns. I personally do not like this, especially within an emotional and poetic scene. It is against the story and music and it suggests that the ballerina could not finish her turns with a good balance. Even after her fantastically fast turns, Nina stops and shows us a beautiful arabesque and I think this is an important quality in a ballerina. When the performance was over, Kennedy Center was full of cheers.
As my seat was in the fourth row of the orchestra when I saw Le Corsaire (ABT, June 3, at the Metropolitan Opera) I could see Nina's face very well and it was full of emotion. It clearly expressed Medora's joy, grace, disappointment, and anger as the performance progressed. The most impressive part was the "bedroom scene". She expressed Medora's affection to Conrad and I could hear their sweet conversation through the dance. In this scene, her arms and legs were especially beautiful and were excellent storytellers.
In the flower garden scene, as in the dream scene of Don Quixote, her aura was completely different from the other dancers. I think it is hard for a prima ballerina to dance in such a situation because she is surrounded by many ballerinas. A prima ballerina must show her superior skills with technique and grace and must show a special, shining quality. When Nina is there, the audience easily notices who is the principal because her presence is special. The cast was so gorgeous with Nina, Julio Bocca, Paloma Herrera, Angel Corella and Jose Manuel Carreño. I would like to emphasize that besides these top class dancers, the dancer who performed the Pasha made the performance much more fun. During the curtain calls, the audience was full of joy and Nina received their joy and affection with charming smiles.
I had seen Nina's photos in The Snow Maiden costume before I saw this ballet. She looked so charming as the heroine of this fairy tale, so I wanted to see this piece. Later, I learned that the ballet was created for Nina so when the opportunity came, I did not hesitate to go to Texas to see her in it with the Houston Ballet (Sept. 23, 29). At last I could see the ballet! The Snow Maiden is extremely beautiful, with lovely Tchaikovsky music arranged by John Lanchbery and spectacular costumes and sets by Desmond Heeley. The set for Act III is especially impressive, full of Russian atmosphere---it looked like a picture book. However, the most beautiful thing in the ballet was Nina---by all means, Nina.
Her every movement was delicately beautiful and charming, especially her fingers. I cannot find the appropriate words to describe the magical movements of her fingers. It was a miracle! I was very much touched because she told of childlike feelings, passion, love and the the pain of farewell with those fingers. I have been attending ballet for fifteen years but I have never seen such magical fingers. People say that fast turns or super-extended leg lifts are the epitome of ballet technique, but I think Nina's unique expression through her expressive fingers goes beyond such definitions of technique.
Her interpretation was wonderful. Her charming and childlike Snow Maiden was performed very naturally. I could feel for her and in my mind I said to her, "I hope you win Misgir's love. Good luck." I think the other members of the audience felt the same way, and that is why the audience applauded enthusiastically when the Snow Maiden decided to leave her world and follow Misgir at the end of Act I. Later, when she was melting, I believe the audience wanted to bring ice for her to give her more time to be with Misgir. I think the success of the ballet owed much to Nina's great creation of the character--with her emotional involvement and technique.
The Snow Maiden ended sadly because the heroine melted away, but it warmed my heart. I cannot forget Nina's childlike Snow Maiden and her affectionate smile. If I had children, I would choose this as the first ballet for them. I hope this ballet is performed every winter, along with The Nutcracker and that the Houston Ballet can bring it to Japan.