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By Wendy Perron
Avery Fisher Hall
Lincoln Center, NYC
November 5, 2011
Considering Ratmansky’s gift for lyricism and romance, Dreams About Japan (1998)—one of three Ratmansky works on the program—is a startling ballet. From the first strike of a Kodo drummer, the seven dancers of Nina Ananiashvili’s State Ballet of Georgia move with a punch that’s rare in his work. Dressed in patchwork, drape-y kimonos in reds, greens, and yellows, they act out four Kabuki plays.
The spare, dramatic score, composed by L. Eto, N. Yamaguchi, and A. Tosha and conducted onstage by Gianluca Marciano, sets the tone. The intriguing first solo, “The Heron Maiden,” danced by Philippe Solano in a white tunic, is sharp in design and rhythm, yet delicate and vulnerable. But it was David Ananeli, in the “Lion Dance,” who was unforgettable. His grounded virility combined with soft pawing-the-air to create an almost savage figure.
Ananiashvili has a turn as a cat woman wearing a red, glittery unitard and one red glove and one black glove. (After reading the program notes I realized she was a broken-hearted woman transformed into a Fire Snake.) She wraps a thin scarf around herself or her victim. I can’t think of any other dancer I’d rather see on the prowl. At the end, amidst all the other dancers, Ananiashvili is drumming on the floor as though she has conjured all these characters—which makes sense because apparently this ballet was her idea. Then she gets up and joins them, going wild for the last 10 seconds, like the steps are hers to own or throw away. What a thrill!
Ratmansky’s Charms of Mannerism, however, is less than thrilling. Maybe when it was first commissioned for Ananiashvili’s touring group of Bolshoi stars back in 1997, it was an utter delight. But now it seems like just another ballet about societal silliness. The only smidgeon of redeeming choreography is a trio where a man and the two women entwine hands as they go through doll-twirling positions.
Bizet Variations (2008) is a bit amorphous in the beginning but eventually coalesces into three duets. The lovely, musical partnering engages fluid, long, open lines. Just before the end, the central woman falls into a brief spell of loneliness and then her partner swoops her up in a shoulder lift for a triumphant end. The ballet seems like a precursor to his more scintillating sextet for ABT, Seven Sonatas. (That ballet is clearer in its formations, more inventive in its choreography, and more affecting in its emotional tugs.)
In addition to the three Ratmanskys, Ananiashvili performed Fokine’s Dying Swan—actually, two separate interpretations. There’s a moment downstage right where I could swear she’s doing a Graham contraction as she reaches both her arms high. Her big swipe at the end almost slammed her shoulder into the floor. When she repeated the brief dance as an encore (a tradition in Russia), the second time was completely different. She changed the facings, timings, amount of rubbery rippling arms (less), amount of asymmetry (more), and did not descend to the floor until the very end. We could see her body thinking up different choices. This added an exciting dimension to her wonderfully tragic Dying Swan.
Note: My video interview with Nina Ananiashivili from last year is on our website in three parts. In Part I, she talks about about how she approaches Dying Swan. In Part II, she tells why she asked the young, unknown Ratmansky to choreograph for her in the 1990s. In the last reel she discusses how she chooses repertoire for her company.
Photos, top to bottom: Ananiashvili with Georgian flag at curtain call; David Ananeli in "Lion Dance" section of Dreams About Japan; Ananiashvili as Fire Snake in Dreams About Japan. By Christian Miles, courtesy International Concerts.