NINA ANANAISHVILI & STARS OF THE BOLSHOI BALLET IN JAPAN 2004
An essay on Nina published in the program for her Tour of Japan 2004; English version printed with permission from Japan Arts.
A BOUQUET FOR NINA
I fell in love with Nina
Ananiashvili at first sight. It was the summer of 1987, and the Bolshoi Ballet had come in
full force for a three-week season at
I fell in love with Nina Ananiashvili at first sight. It was the summer of 1987, and the Bolshoi Ballet had come in full force for a three-week season at
In 1988, I saw Nina again with Andris Liepa, her partner in those early years, when they became the first Soviet dancers to be invited as guest artists with New York City Ballet (NYCB). Together, they fascinated us in Balanchines Raymonda Variations and Apollo; and I can still see Ninas mesmerizing swoon into Otto Neuberts arms at the end of the second movement of Symphony in C.
Long years passed before
I could see Nina again. Meanwhile, the thawing of political relationships between East and
West had allowed her to dance with ballet companies around the world: she was expanding
her repertory and becoming a ballet superstar. Then, as luck would have it, New York-based
art patrons, Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison Rollnick, decided to sponsor Ninas
appearances with American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Starting
in 1993, she danced principal roles with the company during its spring seasons at the
Metropolitan Opera House. I could delight in seeing Nina develop as an artist in
With repeated viewings over a relatively short period of time, my appreciation of Ninas gifts continued to grow. Although my husband and I had been avid ballet lovers for more than thirty years, and admired many artists who came before her, in Nina we found that perfect balance of talent, physical beauty, intelligence and inner radiance. Finally, we decided that we had to do something for this artist who enriched our lives so profoundly. Through Nina Alovert, a ballet photographer and writer whom I knew professionally, we made contact with Ninas husband, Gregory Vashadze. Our timing turned out to be perfect---they were being urged by fans to do a website-- and so, www.ananiashvili.com was launched in December 1997.
As the site grew, so did our friendship with Nina and Gregory. One precious privilege we were granted was to be on Ninas guest list after every performance. It is thrilling to be able to see her just off the stage, still in her costume, greeting the fans who had found their way backstage at the Met. One thing that struck me was that Nina never seemed to sweat! It is a wonder how someone who has just danced something as arduous as Don Quixote or Swan Lake can look so fresh! Always gracious, she stops to give a hug and a kiss to faithful friends---and children get extra special attention. Once, I thanked her for making us feel so happy, and she said, Im happy, because thats my job.
The ballerinas job is never done. Every day there is class, and afternoons are occupied by rehearsals. At ABT (unlike at the Bolshoi) the varied repertory and compressed season means that you are learning or reviewing one role while dancing another, frequently on the same day. Sometimes we are allowed to attend rehearsals, always a treat. Nina arrives early and begins stretching before the session begins. She once explained to me that even though she may be dancing similar classical ballets, each role has different requirements and steps, so it is necessary to warm up different muscles for each one.
As soon as Ninas coach (almost always Irina Kolpakova, a great Kirov ballerina of a former generation) and the pianist arrive, work begins in earnest. This past summer, we watched Nina and Marcelo Gomes rehearse their duets for Don Quixote. Marcelo was making his debut as Basilio, and many adjustments in placement and timings had to be agreed upon. ABTs artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, also made an appearance, since this was his version of the ballet; he was particular about all the details of the action.
On the way back to her dressing room, Nina happened to pass across the main stage, where two soloists were practicing their numbers. Nina watched for a while, then, to their delight, she gave them pointers on how to do execute some steps with more ease.
So why does Nina have to rehearse Don Q---a ballet she could probably dance in her sleep? Because repetition is the basis of solid technique, and a dancer always needs a critical eye to keep her in top form. Even after twenty years onstage, it seems there is always one more detail, one more pause or snap of the wrist that somehow makes a phrase more dramatic or meaningful. Of course, the sessions with Kolpakova are always conducted in Russian, so we miss many details. But even so, just watching the corrections and Ninas instant response is fascinating.
After watching a rehearsal, it is so much more rewarding to see the performance---knowing where adjustments had been made, and difficult parts smoothed out in practice. But although one might try to concentrate on these minute facets, it is never really possible to escape being swept up with the large-scale interpretation that Nina gives to each role. In ballet parlance, Nina dances big; her Bolshoi training is evident in the fullness of every physical gesture, the boldness of her leaps, the extreme extension of her torso, arms and legs, the amazing speed of her turns. Yet she never takes the small steps for granted. To see Nina execute delicate entrechats as Giselle, effortless sissonnes as Aurora and lacey pointe work as Raymonda is to realize that in fact, there are no small steps in ballet.
As anyone who has seen her dance knows, Nina is no mere virtuoso. She imbues steps with meaning, weaving them into seamless musical phrases that communicate mood, feeling and story to the audience. One could compare her to a painter who, with brushstrokes big and small, creates a masterpiece right before your eyes. She also has that compelling stage presence that lights up the stage and makes everything and everyone around her seem more brilliant.
Among classical dancers currently onstage, one could say that the passionately lyrical Alessandra Ferri, the charismatic virtuoso Sylvie Guillem and the vivacious Diana Vishneva possess many of Ninas virtues. And certainly there have been superlative artists in the recent past who have enriched dance with their memorable personalities and achievements. Having resided in the U.S. since the late 1960s, I have enjoyed watching many top ballet companies and their principal artists. I was fortunate to catch the glorious twilight years of Margot Fonteyn; the radiant prime of Suzanne Farrell, Gelsey Kirkland, Merrill Ashley and Antoinette Sibley. Erik Bruhn, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anthony Dowell were among my favorite danseurs nobles. My own ballet training---family legend has it that my mother enrolled me for lessons at age two and a half---had prepared me to appreciate the varied qualities of these dancers. But, there is something about Nina that places her, in my mind, above the rest.
Above all, her mastery of virtually the whole range of ballets from Romantic, Classical, neo-Classical to Contemporary is, in my experience, unprecedented. Through her association with the Royal Danish Ballet, she has absorbed the soft, buoyant style of Bournonville for La Sylphide. Training with the Danes has doubtless also influenced her interpretation of Giselle; the images she evokes in the adagio movements of the Coralli-Perrot ballet have been the epitome of the Romantic ideal.
In the Classical ballets
of Petipa and his followers, Nina is in a class all her own. She is the reigning Raymonda
of her generation---sublime in the classical variations and diamantine in the Hungarian
divertissements. Her Kitri in Don Quixote is
an incomparable concoction of sunshine and bravura. Her flirty eyes, fearless jumps and
endless balances leave you gasping for air. Her
Nina has also excelled in the ballets of two very dissimilar English choreographers. Her dramatic depths are fully explored by Kenneth MacMillans Manon and Romeo and Juliette; in Frederick Ashtons La Fille Mal Gardée, Nina reveals a naughty side, making her a delightfully fleet-footed Lise. In new works, some commissioned by her, Nina has extended dance communication. She sparkles in the comic exaggerations of Charms of Mannerism, the pulsing exoticism of Dreams About Japan, both by Alexei Ratmansky, and the soaring lyricism of Ben Stevensons Three Preludes. Stevenson paid her the highest compliment by creating the full-length The Snow Maiden for her; more recently, the French choreographer Pierre Lacotte revived a forgotten Petipa ballet, La Fille du Pharaon, at the Bolshoi for Nina. There is a video of the premiere, which deserves to be commercially released.
Lately, the Georgian prima ballerina has had the opportunity to dance more ballets by her countryman, George Balanchine (born Balanchivadze). Her brilliant technique and speed are brought to the fore in this masters pieces, yet she brings something more to them, for which she has sometimes been criticized---interpretation. Balanchine experts have been known to quibble and quote Balanchines dictum of just dance. Yet, in my view, the most successful of Balanchine ballerinas---including Violette Verdy and Suzanne Farrell---imbued their dancing with emotion. The formalistic steps and patterns acquire meaning from some personal impetus---and the most interesting artists have always been those who revealed a rich inner life through dance.
It is that inner life that perfumes all of Ninas performances. It is compounded of intelligence, artistic integrity, courage, wit, humor and above all, generosity of spirit. Time, and the triumphs and trials of a twenty-two-year career have not dimmed Ninas essentially beautiful nature. We share in this beauty every time we see her dance. As I have often said, we are blessed to be living in the age of Nina Ananiashvili.
By Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga
is a New York-based freelance writer, formerly on the editorial staff of Opera News and Ballet News. She is currently the