Nina Ananiashvili, a bravura ballerina of prodigious talent, is one of the true international ballet stars today. Her dancing is graced with classical purity, superb musicality, fierce intelligence, sculptural heft and a honeyed, burnished lyricism. Her genius is that she's a complete original, impossible to typecast. She dances with equal authority the virtuoso, romantic, dramatic and classical roles, and she can do anything--turn, jump, balance, sustain an adagio pose, spin out a long legato phrase of steps that can stop the heart and dance at death-defying speed.
Trained at the Bolshoi, Ananiashvili epitomizes the Russian school of classical dance that reached its pinnacle in our century, and she stands in a direct line of succession to the great Bolshoi ballerinas of the past--Marina Semyonova (one of her teachers), Maya Plisetskaya, Raisa Struchkova (another teacher) and Ekaterina Maximova.
Ananiashvili has not only distinguished herself in performances with her home company in Moscow and on tour. She has made history as the first Russian ballerina to dance with the Bolshoi while also appearing with the Maryinsky (Kirov), the New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, the Royal Danish Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Furthermore, her own troupe, "Nina Ananiashvili and International Stars", has enjoyed phenomenal success, breaking box-office records at theaters in Asia, Europe and the United States.
Ananiashvili's Russian repertory centers on the classics, Swan Lake, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, La Bayadere, Raymonda, The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. Her performances in these ballets are graced with what the writer Gennady Smakov has called a "special amplitude of gesture and pose," suggesting passion that has long been attributed to the Russian national character.
Nowhere is this attribute clearer than in Swan Lake. In Act II, Ananiashvili's tremulous Odette folds her head and neck onto her shoulder as if she's trying to obscure herself in her plumage, and the position takes on the force of a signature pose. Her Odile is 180 degrees different--she enters like a blast of heat from the furnace of hell, the ultimate femme fatale.
As Kitri in Don Quixote, Ananiashvili's is the performance all others must measure up to: an exuberant amalgam of charm, comic timing, breathtaking virtuosity and classical purity. Equally impressive is La Bayadere. Here she embodies Nikiya's moral fervor, romantic passion and forgiving nature while linking the various facets of the role--dancing girl, temple virgin, vengeful rival, shade--to near textbook classicism that is ravishing.
In addition to her mastery of the nineteenth-century classical style, Nina is gifted with a sensitivity to modern choreography coupled to a supreme adaptability, which has enabled her to succeed beautifully in twentieth-century works. Her Firebird with the Royal Ballet sparkled with a supernatural magic. And her affinity for Kenneth MacMillan resulted in triumphs as that choreographer's Juliet and Princess Rose in The Prince of the Pagodas. And has any visiting artist at New York City Ballet ever scaled the summits of Balanchine's greatest masterworks, Symphony in C, Raymonda Variations and Apollo as effortlessly and sublimely as she?
New York has had the good luck of seeing Nina refine her mastery of her signature roles. As an ABT artist since 1993, she has also made her mark in ballets new to her--Macmillan's Manon, Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. In the most recent season, she made Ronald Hynd's Merry Widow unforgettable.
The miracle of Nina Ananiashvili's artistry is that--her triumphs notwithstanding--we feel her greatest years are still to come, and it is with wonder, joy and excitement that we await them.
BY LARRY KAPLAN