A CANDID PORTRAIT
The following interview was conducted by Nina Alovert in New York City in 1996. It has been translated from Russian and edited for clarity. It provides an intimate glimpse into the life, career experiences and exceptional qualities that have made Ananiashvili the incomparable artist she is today. [An interview of the ballerina that was conducted by the noted author Barbara Newman and published in her book "Striking a Balance," (Limelight Editions, N.Y.) sheds light on the dancer's interpretations of her most important roles.] Portrait Photo by S. Bermeniev.
1. Tell me how you got into ballet.
When I was four years old, my parents got me involved in figure skating, to strengthen my health: I had sore throats, got sick a lot. Soon, I was skating quite seriously, I had a ranking, I had awards. At one point [in 1973], I was champion of Georgia. And then when I was ten, Alla Dvali came to see us, she was a dancer. She noticed that I greatly enjoyed ballet. We started doing ballet separately, so that I would look better on skates. Slowly, she encouraged me to get more involved; telling me it was so beautiful, so great, and it would not be difficult for me. All of the sudden, she and Yury Zaretsky, a choreographer of movies, and musicals, staged The Dying Swan for me on skates. She took me to the theater and showed me a real ballet costume, with feathers, and I was completely convinced that I was Maya Plisetskaya.
2. Who are your parents?
My dad - a geologist, my mom - a linguist, my grandmother was a doctor. They were all involved in science, but they loved the arts. My father used to take me to the theater to see ballets, and when they were shown on television, he always called me over, saying "Look how beautiful it is." Obviously it was impossible to not have seen Plisetskaya in Swan Lake. Anyway, I was performing the Saint-SaŽns number at a recital, a competition. I was so absorbed in my dancing that I started crying, and after this Dvali somehow convinced my mother that she saw more opportunity for me in ballet than in sports. She explained to my parents that at 16 I would have to quit skating, whereas in ballet I would have a longer and more interesting career. My father was against this, he understood the hardships that ballet dancers faced, and said "I don't want my daughter to suffer, she is the only one I have and I do not want my girl working like a miner."
My mother had an ardent love for ballet. In her time, she was enrolled in a ballet school, but she was there just one day. This was during the time of Vakhtang Chabukiani. My mother had a very pretty figure, beautiful legs, and she was accepted. When her mother's sister found out, she took her out, she said she had no business being there, and girls should study music. She had so much desire left that she and I went behind my father's back, and I was accepted into a ballet school. For a year I was skating and dancing. This was hard. It was difficult for me to stop skating, my life had been connected with the ice for so many years, but the doctors told my mother that it was impossible for me to do both; a child of ten years could not be under such pressure. My father was always upset: "why does the child come home so late. She works like an adult, from 9 to 7. And then my mother said to me "Nina, now you have to decide for yourself, ballet or skating." And I said, "Let's try ballet." And that is how I remained in ballet.
DECISION TO GIVE UP SKATING FOR BALLET
My teacher was Tamara Vikhodtseva. My father obviously found out and learned to live with it. I studied with her for four years in Tbilisi. Since it was still one country, the Soviet Union, we were often visited by teachers from Moscow, and from the Kirov. And so it happened that on the day of our examination, Elena Nikolaevna Zhemtchuzhina arrived, she watched our class, our recital. That year I had danced a lot, because a senior girl had been sick, so Chabukiani put me in for her in The Nutcracker, a week before the show. I had never danced The Nutcracker, I had been on pointe only two years, and I replaced her in many numbers. Zhemtchuzhina saw me, and then said: "You have a lot of potential. May I speak with your parents?" My mother came, and Zhemtchuzhina said, "I understand it is more comfortable for you here, easier, but if you really want to give your daughter a career, take her to the Moscow or Leningrad ballet school." This question was discussed very seriously in my family, because at that point a lot of people had been buzzing around, saying how I should be taught ballet more seriously.
It was a big tragedy, my father had already said that if it had to be another city, then definitely Moscow; the climate was better and we had friends there. But he also said that he refused to leave his thirteen year old daughter alone in a strange city. Boys - okay, but my girl - absolutely not. My family is very tightly knit, so this was a really big problem. We had never been apart before. I also have two brothers, I am very close to them, we even spent the summers together. And then my grandmother said, "I'm retiring, I'll go with her." So then my father couldn't do anything. And that is how I got into the Moscow ballet school.
ENTRY AT MOSCOW BALLET SCHOOL, 1976
Right off I was extremely lucky with my teacher. I had Natalia [Viktorovna] Zolotova, who was teaching 5th grade that year. Out of spite [Sofia] Golovkina, [the school director] had given her a bad class to teach, the so-called Class G, where students were from all the different republics. But Zolotova was very professional, she was from Leningrad, very strict and demanded discipline. She put us all facing the bar and started teaching as though we were in the first grade. By this time, I had been dancing a lot; I was a ballerina; I turned pirouettes; and I came into the class constantly dancing. And she told me, "It's time to stop dancing, and time to start learning." For the next six months, she didn't let us breathe as we wanted. She was changing us. And then, after the six months, she showed us off at the recital; we performed an octet, The Waltz of the Clocks. Nobody recognized our class. They all said that we weren't the same children that were there before. The next four years I spent studying with her and these were the happiest times of my life. Love, complete attention, and devotion are the only emotions that I felt during those times. And the kids in my class, and the teachers were always very kind to me, and I never felt like a foreigner.
Obviously, I had problems with the language, because at home I studied all the subjects in Georgian, I had to relearn everything in Russian. I spoke Russian with mistakes, but I still spoke. It was really difficult to learn math, physics, chemistry in Russian. The only thing that came easily was literature, I read a lot, and although I didn't understand everything, I still understood the basic idea. The technical subjects were most difficult, the first year was a big shock, I cried at home everyday. I had straight A's in Georgia in the classics, as well as the general education subjects. It was unlikely that someone who does well with the classics, still struggles with the others.
When I arrived in Moscow, I didn't understand how much I owed to my parents, now I do. When I was getting ready to leave home, my father said to me, "Nina, here you are number one, there you may be last, are you ready for that? You will be in a class where everyone is better than you. If you are willing to bear it and to work and get better, then go, but if not, then don't go, for it will be a waste of nerves and health." I said, "Papa, I don't know, but I have to try. But for now, I cannot tell you whether or not I can bear it. " I had such athletic stamina, that I told myself that I had to run to the end. If I ever started anything, I had to finish it.
In the first two months, I used to cry because I had straight D's in all my subjects, I didn't understand anything. I would hand in blank tests, feeling as though I knew the material, I just could not say what I wanted to. My teachers asked me, "Did you ever go to school, anywhere?" I laugh now, but I was really upset then. I would say, "Yes, I went to school, just in another language." Because Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, I was not entitled to the privileges that foreigners had, like separate classes, I had to learn with everyone else. They told me that they would give me three weeks to get settled with the language, and during those weeks, no one bothered me, didn't ask me for assignments, didn't give me grades. I was so nervous, so stressed out, that I went temporarily blind; I'm sitting in class, and all of a sudden I realize that I can't see the board. I lost my eyesight. I thought no one would believe that I was struggling with the general education subjects. I went home to my mother, completely terrified, telling her that I didn't understand anything. She said, " Don't push yourself so much." But I told my mother, "Mama, let's try this for two more months."
And then my grandmother, may she rest in peace, I still think about her now, she said, "Send me all the text books." The education system was organized exactly the same throughout the country, so all the textbooks were exact translations of each other. So my mother sent me all the text books, and I would read in Georgian, understand everything, then read in Russian, and understand almost everything. When all the kids finished their homework at 10 p.m., I finished at 2 a.m. It wasn't in me to be last. My grandmother did my homework with me because she had gotten a different education. We sat together and studied physics and math. When I got all C's for the first semester, I was ecstatic. I finished the year with all B's. The next year was much easier, and I got all A's, with an occasional B. I still made mistakes in spelling. I always asked my classmates whether there was an "o" here, or an "e" there.
My teacher Natalia Viktorovna never gave anyone an A at first, she believed you should work and improve as you go. And then, all of the sudden, she gave me an A. All of the years that I worked with her were very productive, she taught class very calmly. She taught a fifth grade class, a year younger than me, a class of bright girls.
She was invited to a seminar in Leningrad, where teachers and their students came from different schools. She said, "I'll go, I'll show this fifth grade class, but only if I can take this one girl from a different class, I have taught her now for two years." She was told yes, of course, it is your right. And so she took me to this exhibition, and it was my first public performance, among professionals. Before the demonstration, she said, "This is my class, I have taught them for a year, except for Nina, who is a year older." And then we did a lesson. I will never forget how all the people said that they had never seen such a lesson in Leningrad, all together they remarked how beautiful it was.
Then we danced. I danced Gamzatti from La Bayadere and a contemporary number, that [Vakil] Usmanov choreographed for me. Farukh [Ruzimatov] danced a number by Georgy Alexidse for the first time. Afterwards everyone said, "Did you see those two black headed kids?" Everyone noticed us then.
THE BYZANTINE ROAD TO VARNA, 1980
At the end of the next year, Golovkina decided to enter me in the International Contest in Varna. The decision was made two months before the contest, and at that time I didn't understand the reason for such a sudden decision. Beforehand, Natalia Victorovna had asked for permission to prepare me for the National Contest, but Golovkina said no, it was pointless for me to go, that I should stay and learn the ballets, and she already had girls who were going to the Contest: one of her own students and a pupil of another teacher from the Moscow Choreographic School. (Natalia Viktorovna didn't tell me any of this at the time.) After the National Contest, Golovkina suddenly said to my teacher, "You have to send your student to Varna, with a partner." Natalia Viktorovna said, "What do you mean with a partner? We haven't prepared anything. How can she learn three pas de deux, and a contemporary number in two months?" But Golovkina insisted, she said, "If you don't prepare her, the Bolshoi will not accept her. This is what Grigorovich wants." In reality though, he knew nothing about any of this. Actually, there was a lot of scheming going on: in the National Contest, another teacher's student beat her own pupil, so Golovkina calculated, that if that girl beat her student in the Nationals, she would surely beat her in Varna. That is why she had to be taken out of the way. But Golovkina did not want, for "democracy's" sake, to send just her student from the Moscow Choreographic School. She also understood that it was nearly impossible to prepare someone for Varna in two months. So, another girl, whoever she was, would be eliminated and that was the point. They put us with Sasha [Alexander] Vetrov, and Natalia Victorovna, being the smart woman that she is, figured out that of course we would be eliminated, but it wouldn't be in vain. She said to me, "Nina, I don't know what's going to happen later, but we are going to work."
So we started working, but Sasha and I had just one rehearsal together, and then something happened to him, and he couldn't participate in the contest. And then Natalia Viktorovna said, "Why don't you go alone. So the work isn't for nothing." The qualifications were still a month away. Back then they were very strict at who they would accept, now it's whoever wants to, goes. We started rehearsing, in Varna the contest was very hard, you had to perform seven variations, and a modern number. I would say to Natalia Viktorovna, "It's unreal, there is no way I can prepare everything so fast. But she'd always say, "If you are eliminated, then fine, but you'll have a chance to dance and you'll see how it is." We were working, and there were exhibitions at school, and she decided that we should show two variations from Coppelia, and Le Corsaire she wanted me to polish everything. I danced, and she said that how I danced at rehearsals, and in front of an audience were of two different realms. The audience, she said, had such an effect on me, that I would rise to a different level. Every time that I practiced the variations, she would always make sure there was someone watching. It was a difficult time, and I wasn't excused from my exams, and Natalia Viktorovna would round up her girls, five minutes before the end of class, bring them to the auditorium to watch me dance. She did that just for me. I adore her, and I think it's rather seldom that one is lucky enough to have a teacher like her.
3. Is she not your teacher anymore?
She still teaches at the school. But even now, she sometimes comes to my rehearsals, I take her on tour with me, sometimes, I trust her. Thank God that she and [Raisa] Struchkova are on good terms. Anyway, we prepared this program, and then there was another problem. They wouldn't let her go to Varna -- she wanted to go as a teacher. They cut her off completely, and hired another teacher. So she made me write down all her corrections, and she would call me and ask, "How did rehearsal go today? Do you remember that when you turn, you have to push off, when you do pas de chat you have to hold your leg?" She corrected me over the telephone, and everything that she said, I did. She sewed such beautiful costumes for me. On my way to the contest, I thought it would be such a pity if I didn't get to wear all of them. She said, "Don't worry about it. You'll come home and wear them here. If you are eliminated early, then you'll come back here and we'll work." When I got to the second round, she said, "Good going, second round, but if you get eliminated, don't hang around there too long, come back here, and we'll start working again. I said, "I passed the third round," and she said "You see, a diplomate already." And all of the sudden, when I got the gold, I thought I won the silver, and I called home, "Grandma, I got the silver," and her voice sounded disappointed, "Nina, I thought you [would get] the gold." I was thinking, you're not satisfied with silver! And I hung up the phone, and this little Spanish girl runs into the room, screaming, "Oro, Nina, Oro!" And I went to check the list and I was number one. I thought they'd mixed something up. Everyone was coming up to me, congratulating me, and all I could say was "is this a mistake?" Everyone laughed. I called my grandmother back and I said, "I'm sorry, I got first place." She said, "I just knew it." It turned out, that Eliyash, a noted Russian critic, was on the jury, and when he found out, he called Moscow and told someone. Someone called Natalia Viktorovna, and said, "Congratulations, your girl just won the gold." I found out later.
MOSCOW COMPETITION, 1981
That was the first contest, the second one was in Moscow, and there I danced with Andris [Liepa]. I received the Grand Prix, Natalia Viktorovna prepared me for this contest. That was my graduation year, and we were working on Coppelia for the recital. (Recently, I saw the tape--I didn't realize that it had been recorded-- and I was just amazed, Natalia Viktorovna is just incredible. Everything is so clean and polished, I couldn't believe my eyes. It is a pity that she and Golovkina couldn't get along, she survived two heart attacks, and said, "That's it, I can't take it anymore." She left the school, and taught "amateur" children and brought them to some success, when instead she could have been teaching gifted girls, and in four years making them ballerinas.)
So Andris and I danced the leading roles in the graduation performance of Coppelia [Nina won Grand Prix and Andris, the Gold] and afterwards I was accepted into the Bolshoi. This was unbelievable for me, I wasn't from Moscow, I thought I would have to go back to Tbilisi. I am thankful to Golovkina for not preventing me from getting into the Bolshoi; she could have. Natalia Viktorovna said that if I wasn't accepted into the Bolshoi, she still wouldn't let me go back to Tbilisi. But Grigorovich said, "I like that girl," and accepted me into the troupe. He saw me in Varna, and at the second contest. This was 1981.
4. How did the troupe take to you?
They didn't. We were all laureates of contests. I came to the class, and like a newcomer stood at the bar, where I could find room. It was all very difficult for me, Natalia Viktorovna had taught us very delicately, you couldn't do this, couldn't do that. But in the theater, the better you behave, the worse it is for you. Not quite worse, but a lot unfairness came out of it. The ruder you were the faster you got to the top. And besides, we were all used to the school, the attention, the teacher who constantly corrected you, but in the theater, no one cared. You had to watch yourself. You are alone. Your rehearsals get pushed to the end, you wait three hours on your butt.
The only thing that saved Andris and me was that we had prepared the whole repertoire for the Moscow Competition, pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, Le Coirsaire and a modern number. We were constantly invited to concerts. It was moonlighting, but we did it anyway, so that we'd be dancing something, somewhere. The first ballet that I prepared, quite accidentally, was The Wooden Prince by Andrei Petrov, music by Bartok, I was the Forest Fairy. [Leonid] Nikonov and [Natalia] Arkhipova were the leads, and nobody thought of me. All of a sudden, there was no one available to dance; [Nina] Semizorova left, and [Maria] Bylova was sick. And suddenly they remembered, that there is a girl who can still stand on pointe. They came to me, and asked me if I could learn the ballet in two weeks. I was working with Raisa Stepanovna Struchkova. We said, "Sure, we'll do it!"
THE GERMAN TOUR (1982)/FIRST SWAN LAKE
Then, a season later, the following happened. The theater was touring in Germany. This is a little bit amusing. I was supposed to do some little variations, and in two concerts I was supposed to do the adagio from The Sleeping Beauty, and they forgot about me. I said to Raisa Stepanovna, "May be I won't go?" Because the company was leaving on tour, and I had the chance to dance a couple of parts [at the Bolshoi]. I thought it would be better than going on tour, and doing practically nothing, except for one variation. Raisa Stepanovna went to the office and said, "Let Ananiashivili stay here, she and I will prepare something, Myrta, for example." But they said, "No we need her. What do you mean? She isn't dancing anything! Oh, she is doing the pas de deux." And they started staging all these pas de deux for me, I even got one of the brides in Swan Lake. Two days before the company was scheduled to leave, I come home, and my grandmother says, "There's someone on the phone for you from the theater." And they say, "Nina, you have a rehearsal tomorrow for Swan Lake," and I remember that I have to dance the Spanish bride in two weeks, and so I say, "Why do I have to rehearse the Spaniard so early?" And they say, "No, you have Odette, and Odile." I was in shock, "I have never danced those parts." But they told me, "We don't know anything, when Grigorovich was leaving he said that Ananiashvili is dancing Odette and Odile on the tour, so we set up a rehearsal for you." I dropped the phone, and ran to my Grandmother, and she says, "Well that's wonderful!" "But I've never danced it before," I begin to panic. "It's okay," she says, "you'll learn!" I called Raisa Stepanovna, and Natalia Viktorovna, two people I am really close to, I needed advice. And both of them said, "Well, you have forty-eight hours, go and work." Both of them had the fullest confidence in me. Raisa Stepanovna and I went to the auditorium, and the Natalia Viktorovna came too. Struchkova wasn't going to Germany, Rimma Karelskaya was going. And together they all showed me the lesson, we rehearsed with Kolya Fedorov. We rehearsed night and day, and in the beginning, he would take me to his house to show me the videos, because I didn't have a VCR at home. And then back to the auditorium, to rehearse, and again, in the train we were on for two days, I would repeat the music and the dance in my head.
Then we came to Baden, there was one show there, I don't remember what I danced. In the intermissions Karelskaya and I would go through the ballet, she would sing the music to me in the dark. The premier was in Hamburg. To say that dancing Swan Lake after four rehearsals is easy is a blatant lie. There was a dress rehearsal, Yury Nikolaevich [Grigorovich] said that Natasha Bessmertnova would do the first act, and I the third. He wanted to drill us, something ballerinas hate to do. So I danced the Black Swan pas de deux, and received the highest grade: the whole troupe stood up and cheered.
They knew that I was new in the theater, and I hadn't danced that much, and Yury Nikolaevich ran up onto the stage, beaming and said, "Just don't tell anyone that you've never danced Swan Lake before." I still haven't had the chance to ask him why he gave me Swan Lake. Did he think that I had danced it already? May be someday I'll run into him somewhere, and ask him. I'm remembering it now like it's a dream. Kolya and I came out thirteen times for curtain calls. The German audience, they wouldn't leave, they just stood there, clapping. Everything that I had learned through the contests helped me so much.
Then we danced in Vienna, and Munich. We returned to Moscow and wouldn't you think I would have a ballet to dance? No, I didn't dance Swan Lake again for another year. That is how theater life is.
5. You and Andris didn't dance together anymore?
The problem was that Grigorovich wouldn't let Andris dance anything the first three years, just in corps de ballet. And we did nothing together. But he worked very diligently. In 1985 Andris and I were preparing for the Moscow Contest. And after that, Grigorovich gave us Giselle in Paris. In 1986, we went to the Contest in Jackson [Mississippi, USA] where we shared the Grand Prix. It was the first time they had ever awarded the Grand Prix in Jackson, the first time the Grand Prix was shared at any international competition. After that, we started dancing together, I brought him into Swan Lake, and Raymonda. In 1987, we performed Le Spectre de la Rose, Grigorovich's Romeo and Juliet at the Bolshoi, danced Giselle, the first act of Romeo and Juliet, Raimonda on tour in New York.
6. Why did you and Grigorovich quarrel?
Well, we didn't really argue. I have a suspicion as to why everything happened. It all began after Andris stayed in America. Just before that, the company was going on tour in Greece; [Lyudmila] Semenyaka was expecting a baby and was supposed to leave. Grigorovich asked me if I could stay and dance, but I had to go to Canada with Andris, so I declined the offer. And Grigorovich said, "Well, as you wish." When I returned to Moscow, Andris had stayed in America. We were supposed to go to Japan, because the Japanese had been asking for me for eight years. I came back to Moscow, and he stayed in America, and he said, "Don't worry, I'll be back for the [Japan] tour." He had made a deal with Andrei Petrov [the Bolshoi's ballet manager at that time].
The only thing was, the theater had to send him a visa [for Japan] in New York. But you know how it is in the theater, somebody forgot, or maybe didn't want to. It was as if there was a big conspiracy against us, because we had become very popular with the public. Anyway, Andris didn't receive his visa. I had gone to the theater, saying that if they wanted Andris on tour, then they needed to send him his visa. I had my own problems, I needed to rest and get better, so I said that I would go to Japan two weeks later; my appearance wasn't until later anyway. They had said no problem.
ANDRIS CUT OUT OF JAPAN TOUR (1988)
All of the sudden, I get a call, "You are not needed in Japan. Yury Nicolaevich will manage without you." If he'll manage, that's fine, so I go back to the theater, start working, getting back into shape. The director calls again, the Japanese are waiting for me, Andris is still in America, and they can't get him from there, but you need to come. I say, "Well, I am dancing in Moscow, I'm doing Giselle, but if you need me, I'll pack and fly down." I come home, and Giya [Gregory Vashadze, whom Nina just married] says, call Yury Nicolaevich, something isn't right here, somebody must have told him that you weren't coming. I called Yury Nicolaevich, and said, "I don't know who has said whatever it was about me, but I am in shape right now, I have worked in the theater, and if you need me in Japan, tell me." He said, "No, we're okay without you." "When you get back," I said, "I will tell you everything." That was the last conversation we ever had.
When they returned to Moscow, he did not speak to me, I was excluded from everything, I didn't dance in the theater, he didn't take me on tours. Why, I don't know, may be someone said something to him, I wasn't one to go and ask what had happened. Maybe I should have. It turned out this way: when the company was in Moscow, I didn't dance, when they went away on tour, I did. It was like there was a big build-up, and now there was a great big comedown, and I didn't know how long it would last. I was left without a partner, without a repertoire.
NINA'S HUSBAND TAKES CHARGE OF HER CAREER
One day, I came home, completely torn up inside, but I hadn't told anyone, and it had been eating away at me. I just broke down crying. I said to Giya, "Let's go to Tbilisi. It's horrible to be in the theater, and not to dance. I haven't had a show in three months." He never got involved in the ballet life, he just stuck to his diplomacy, so he said, "Well, you've got to do something. We'll have children later. Remember how you were telling me how Frank Andersen [of the Royal Danish Ballet] invited you to dance for him?" I did remember, coming back from Canada, telling him about Andersen's invitation to dance Sylphide. Giya said, "Well, let's give him a call." "Are you out of your mind?" I replied, "How are we going to call him?" "I understand that all you dancers are impractical," he said. And quite pragmatically, he opened up a Dance Magazine, and there they were, all the theaters. He found the number, ordered a phone call, and in three days we got to talk to Andersen. "Hello, this is Nina," I said, "Is it alright if my husband speaks to you." "Of course, it is." And so he says, "If you are serious about inviting Nina, then let's realize that idea." Andersen was shocked; he wasn't expecting this, he said, "Sure, let's do it." They made plans for September. By this time, we were free of the theater [as far as travel documents were concerned], there were other firms that would get passports. As soon as plans were made for Sylphide, there was a big boom! A French producer came, and said, "I want to meet Ananiashvili." Through Vasiliev, he found me, and he says, "I want to invite you to a gala in Paris, with Makarova, Baryshnikov, I want to introduce you as a young star." I said, "Of course, I'd love to, but they won't let me go." He said, "I know, I've already talked to the theater, and they aren't letting you go, but I want you to go anyway." He asked everyone in the theater, and they had all said, "Take Semenyaka, Bessmertnova, [Irek] Mukhamedov, anyone, but Ananiashvili." "But why," he asks.
I went to the theater, and said, "Let me go to the gala for three days in January." (I wasn't dancing anything in January.) The director says, "I understand, but the producer of the Bolshoi doesn't want you working with this producer." "Well, I'm sorry, but you don't take me on tours anymore." "Well, Yury Nicolaevich said no." "Am I going to receive no to every request, forever?" "You're dancing Swan Lake in January." So I didn't go to Paris, thinking at least I'd do Swan Lake on the 7th. In the first days of January, I go to the administration of the theater asking when I could rehearse Swan Lake. They said I wasn't dancing it. I said, "Well, how could that be, I was told I had a show." "We have no right to put you in front of N ballerina, since she is a nationally acclaimed dancer, and you're not," they told me. I understood that it was just an excuse.
Then I was invited to do Don Quixote in Argentina with Mukhamedov, and they still wouldn't let me go. A little later, Eric Volodin [one of the teachers at the Bolshoi] was staging Don Quixote and Giselle in Portugal, and invited me to do both. Giya finally said, "That 's enough. You are going, even if you have to leave the theater. This is ridiculous." And so, Lesha [Aleksei] Fadeyechev and I escaped. We did nine performances. And Giya said, "This is the last time I see you cry because you want to dance and they won't let you." He started helping me, he knew languages, always could answer and help the people and the companies who wanted to ask me to come and dance.
THE 1989 U.S. TOUR
1989 was a strange year. There was a tour to America, and all the ads were made up for Irek Mukhamedov, but he had stayed in the West, and the Bolshoi was waiting for him. And then, the tour producers said, "If Irek is not here, and Nina is not coming the the U.S., the tour is impossible. We have to open with Ananiashvili in Swan Lake." I had never opened a tour anywhere. I was originally excluded from the American tour. Yury Nicolaevich ranted and raved, but he understood that it was impossible any other way.
Then, in 1990, there was a short Bolshoi tour of Japan, and the Japanese were asking for me. But I decided, why should I go if there isn't any of my repertoire to dance there. I thought it would be pointless to go to dance just one pas de deux. But the Japanese said, no Ananiashvili, no tour. I was in all the ads. If I didn't go, the tour was ruined. The journalists had hounded everyone, everywhere about my constant absences from tours. They were always told that I was sick, or I prefered to dance on my own, or anything else. So, some good things happened but the battle was still going on.
RUMORS OF NINA'S DEFECTION
But then again, here's something. After Lesha and I came back from Portugal we asked [Yuri] Vetrov [the casting director] for the [ 1989 U.S. Tour] schedule, to see what we were dancing. For three days he avoided us, made excuses, couldn't find the schedule. It turned out that someone had started a rumor saying that Lesha and I weren't coming back, that we had defected somewhere unknown. So the whole repertoire was changed. We were so confused. When Marina Semyonova met us in America, she was so surprised, "Oh, so you decided to come?" But we had been planning on coming all along.
So we danced all over America. When we did the adagio from Don Quixote everyone clapped so much, we always had to come out again. Yury Nicolaevich came one day and said, "They've told me that you've gone and done something extraordinary, so I thought I'd check it out." So he came, and watched from backstage, and congratulated us. That was the last time I went on tour with the theater.
I was very angry. Everyone in the Bolshoi had been very cautious in relationship with me, everyone knew that Grigorovich and I had a strained relationship, sometimes they would schedule rehearsals for me, and sometimes they wouldn't. Many books were published about the Bolshoi, and how many times would you see a photograph of me? Maybe one of horrid quality, at best. The Japanese came, made a movie about the Bolshoi, my name was in the credits, but that's all.
NINA'S RESIGNATION FROM THE BOLSHOI IS REJECTED
And then, this happened. Aleksei and I had accepted the invitation of the Royal Ballet to do the The Prince of the Pagodas in London during some time that we had off, and then something got moved in the theater, the schedule got changed, the next American tour was scheduled in the place of the vacation. But we already had a contract signed, so we thought oh no, another fight. I decided to yield this time, for ten years I had given my heart and soul to the theater, I had to do something. I went to the director, and explained the situation to him, that I had been told I was off in October so I signed the contract. He said, "Of course, I understand, but we need you in America, without you it's impossible. Go, and see Grigorovich." We went to see Yury Nicolaevich , and explained to him what had happened, and he very calmly says, "I do not deal with these questions. I am the artistic director. If you aren't on tour with us, we'll figure something out. I am bound by a contract to the director just like you. If it were different, I would have a way of dealing with this, but I can't." "So this is the director's problem?" I asked. He said "Yes." We bolted to the [Vladimir] Kokonin, the director, and told him, "Apparently this is all your problem." "My problem?" he replied with much shock.
I got so sick and tired, I wrote a resignation note, I said, "You never let me leave, so I'm leaving permanently, I can't handle it anymore." He said, "I have not seen this letter, you have not written it, go dance that damn Pagodas, and I will have a scandal to deal with!"
7. When did you leave the theater?
But don't you see, I didn't leave. I never left! Everyone always writes about me: "a former ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater." It's misinformation. And Vasiliev, when he was interviewed recently in America, and was asked who was in his theater, mentioned everyone except me. I want to go to him and tell him that if he wants me to dance for him, he should at least mention my name. Though truthfully, I hardly ever dance in Moscow. I am mostly in the West, but I never left the company. Before I left for America I danced Juliet, and Giselle. Even Anyuta is in my repertoire.
8. How does the theater feel about you leaving once in a while.
They're very understanding about it. They realize that I have a different life now.
9. You've danced three different versions of "Romeo and Juliet", which one is your favorite?
Lavrovsky's and MacMillan's. MacMillan has beautiful duets. Grigorovich's was my first Juliet. But as for the ballet itself, I like Lavrovsky's and MacMillan's more. In Grigorovich's there was something not quite there for me. The whole thing is based on movement, and there aren't enough basic poses.
To me the adagio is very important, it is not just a warm-up for the variations. I love the way I feel -- calm, and free with a partner, both of us dancing, feeling the duet. It is very effective for me, it was this way with Andris, and now with Aleksei and a lot of my recent Western partners, especially Julio Bocca, who is one of the best partners I have ever had, and Guillaume Graffin. Why else would the audience go wild when the duet was well-danced? Because it's important, the way a dancer presents his partner, how he looks at her. We see the adagio as a whole.
10. Which parts do you regret not having the opportunity to dance?
I guess I would want to dance Tatyana from Evgeny Onegin. Of course I have a desire to dance something new, and I hope that someone will stage things for me, maybe Boris Eifman [a contemporary dance choreographer]. Incredible things happen in life. My first year in the theater, someone was making a movie, The Twelth Night, Shakespeare. It was an unrealized project. But I was invited to be in that movie, and I wasn't doing anything in the theater, I was thrilled at the chance of working with Eifmann. But I went to Grigorovich, and asked him if I could work for Eifmann. And he said, "What's the matter, there isn't enough work for you at the theater? You still have plenty to learn." Would I go work for Eifmann after that? Of course not. And recently Eifman saw me on TV, and called me, inviting me to work with him. I was so happy, we became friends.
11. Which of his ballets have you seen?
I saw the Karamazovs, and lately nothing has had such an effect on me. I saw Tchaikovsky in Moscow. A great ballet, really great.
12. Is it hard working in foreign theaters, to enter a new group with new traditions? How are you received by other companies? Are there ever problems?
I can't say that it is difficult. I have always felt that feelings towards me have been positive. I am one of those people who don't like problems. I don't ask for anything out of the ordinary, I don't demand that which is impossible. Then you aren't disappointed afterwards. I know what I expect beforehand. All that I ask is rehearsals, that they'd help me learn the new blocking, and that's it. That generally leads to the absence of conflicts. I have never been in an uncomfortable situation.
13. In New York, [Irina] Kolpakova is rehearsing with you. Are you satisfied?
Yes, very. We are from the same school and I know what she means. I am currently rehearsing with Kevin McKenzie [American Ballet Theatre's Artistic Director]; he is a really good partner, and shows all the little details very well.
14. If you could start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I could start over, I wouldn't change anything. I would have studied the same way, with the same teacher, I would have worked with Raisa Stepanovna in the theater, but I would have started doing something else three years earlier. At that time, I just thought that everything took time, and that was the way it was supposed to be. I was lucky in the theater. We had a repertoire. I hardly danced anything of Grigorovich's, but at least I always had the classics.
15. Which theater do you call home?
The Bolshoi is my home. No matter where I dance, no matter how interesting it is, I always return to the Bolshoi, I come home. I go to the classroom, stand at the bar, and Raisa Stepanovna scolds me: enough dancing, time to work a little, to polish things up a bit. I am very happy here. And the things that keep me here-- I have had quite a number of tempting offers, creatively and financially speaking-- are the teachers, and the partners. This really is my home.
And the American Ballet Theatre has really become another home. Frankly, I never thought I could feel this way, but now I can hardly wait for the eight weeks at the Met to start; the season is absolutely insane for ABT and for us dancers, but I can hardly wait to perform in New York for one of the best audiences in the world, to learn the new things Kevin has scheduled for me. Life still makes presents to me, you see...
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