The Georgians are coming! No, not the ones Sherman marched on, but their counterparts a world away where they have vineyards instead of peach groves and enjoy sun-drenched beaches on the Black Sea. Russia has been a superpower of ballet since Marius Petipa created some of today's major classics, but competition is growing within the former republics of Russia. Georgia, a country smaller than Scotland, now has an emerging world-class ballet company ready to rival the Kirov and the Bolshoi. It has long been fertile land for masters like Balanchine and prima ballerinas like superstar Nina Ananiashvili, who describes the difference between Georgia and Russia.
"Georgians are not at all like Russians — it comes from our wonderful weather," she says. "They're very emotional and expressive, like Italians. You'll see people going [she gestures frantically], and you think they're fighting, but they're just saying, 'Hello, I like your skirt!'"
Ananiashvili has performed all over the globe and in all major roles for a classical ballerina, but her main stage homes have been the Bolshoi and the American Ballet Theatre. She has legions of fans who love her for her poetic expressionism, fluid upper body, and theatrical command of her roles.
When Georgia's new president, Mikheil Saakahvili, asked her to head the famous ballet company, Ananiashvili immediately agreed, even in the midst of a busy performing career and having her first baby. "If my country wants me to do this, I will do it for them," she explained in a recent interview arranged around her 15-month-old daughter's bedtime.
Since 2004, she has been the artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia, and its beginnings have been well-received, which Charleston audiences will be able to attest to when the company comes to perform its version of Swan Lake with Tchaikovsky's entrancing score during Spoleto.
Having Swan Lake on the bill for a ballet company means two things: one, they have the ballerina who can live up to the famous starring role and two, the company is sure to live up to one of the most popular ballets of all times. Ananiashvili explains "Swan Lake is ballet's ballet which has been very popular throughout history. This beautiful fairy tale takes your heart and your imagination somewhere else."
The dual role of the main Swan (I know it sounds a bit unbelievable), Odette, and her evil counterpart, Odile, is the most coveted roles in ballet's heritage. For the ballerina, the difficulty is in one person playing two parts. Ananiashvili describes the challenge: "It is the most difficult ballet to dance and also the most enjoyable. To switch between good and evil within one production is very hard." She's got a solid history, though, first performing the role at age 17, after which she received a 30-minute standing ovation.
At Spoleto, the production will be edited and revised from the original four-act version, though many of the original Petipa sections do exist. This ballet incorporates the male ballet dancer's rehearsal process in training and anticipating the role, then coming to terms with what he must do. However, we can be sure that it is the ballerina who will take our breath away, and anyone with an interest in classical dance should have this ballet in their repertoire.
The charming Ananiashvili is her own best advertisement. "I think everyone should come and watch," she says. "Live performance is like no video or replication. It is a unique experience where there is electricity between the performer and the audience!" What better reason to buy a ticket?
SWAN LAKE • Spoleto Festival USA • $10-$85 • (2 hours) • June 7, 8, 9 at 8 p.m.; June 9 at 1 p.m.; June 10 at 2 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • 579-3100