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Nina Ananiashvili’s Double Return to the U.S.
This week Nina Ananiashvili, ballet superstar, is visiting New York as a member of the jury of the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, and in July she returns to USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, to celebrate 30 years since her historic Grand Prix there.
Two former Bolshoi superstars—Valentina Kozlova and Nina Ananiashvili—come together at VKIBC, photo by W. Perron
Like Kozlova, Ananiashvili is one of the more dazzling products of Bolshoi training. With both outsized bravura and poetic tenderness, she excelled in classics like Swan Lake and Don Quixote. A box-office draw at both the Bolshoi Ballet in the 1980s and American Ballet Theatre in the 1990s and 2000s (with stops along the way at The Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and Houston Ballet), she also was instrumental in inviting new choreographers (e.g. Alexei Ratmansky) to make work at the Bolshoi.
The esteemed panel of VKIBC judges also includes Andris Liepa (pictured below on the October 1986 Dance Magazine cover with Ananiashvili), Martine van Hamel, Margo Sappington, Joe Lanteri and Lawrence Rhodes. The Award Ceremony and Gala Performance at Symphony Space this Saturday is dedicated to the late Violette Verdy, who was a mentor to Kozlova. In tribute to Verdy, Daniel Ulbricht and Erica Pereira will perform Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, which Balanchine made on Verdy and Conrad Ludlow in 1960.
Ananiashvili’s second appearance in the U.S. will be onstage in Jackson on July 16. The USAIBC celebrates 30 years since Ananiashvili ad Andris Liepa won the very first Grand Prix there. They were among the earliest competitors from the Soviet Union, and USA IBC is calling its gala the Reunion Gala. She will perform Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand with the State Ballet of Georgia, the company in her homeland that she has led since 2004.
I got a chance to chat with Ananiashvili about her company, her views on competitions, and her reunion at USA IBC. Because the way she speaks English is so charming, I left the language as is, to give you the flavor of her voice.
Your company just returned from a tour of Italy and Spain. How did it go?
I’m so proud because it was difficult program. The company does Concerto Barocco and Serenade brilliantly. Even on small stage was looking very beautiful. When you have big stage, you need to watch side by side like this [her eyes move back and forth as though watching a ping pong game]. But it was a small stage, and full picture in the front of your eyes!
There has been a change of regime in the Republic of Georgia. Do you still get support from the government?
Yes, we have a new theater, with a beautiful opera house. We have fantastic lighting equipment. Ballet artists have their own dressing rooms. We are having a successful season that will be over in June.
Dance Magazine cover, Oct. 1986, with Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa
As a young dancer, you did very well at competitions. You won a gold medal at Varna in 1980, a Grand Prix in Moscow in 1981, and the first Grand Prix in Jackson in 1986.
I was lucky. Jackson—I have long-distance love of this place. In 1986, I was a winner, and 28 years later I went there as judge. Some of the same people were still there, and they see me and they say, “What we can do to have you back here?” They invited my company to perform a whole evening in Jackson this summer. I am so happy.
What do you think is good about competitions?
Today’s competition, it’s different than our time. For a long time I would always say I don’t want to judge because I remember how hard it was to compete. Today, everywhere competitions. The good thing is, first we have a lot of private schools and studios that before, didn’t have the possibility to show off the students. And lots of them are really good—sometimes better than in the big academies. Second, we on the jury are lots of directors. Either they have possibility to come work in another theater or somebody will give scholarship. Also, when they have just private school training, they cannot perform in a theater for an audience. In Moscow we had small theater and children perform on Bolshoi stage sometimes. In private schools, it’s impossible now because it’s so expensive. The competitions give possibility to children to perform for an audience. Also, it is better for ballet generally, because it raises professional audience later. These kids, if they don’t become professional, they will always love ballet because they learned it as children.
Is there a downside to competitions?
They take children very young, and this can be difficult for children later. Sometimes kids 10 years old, they are not afraid of anything and they get medals at Grand Prix, and suddenly at 16 or 18 years old, nobody needs them. They get lots of medals, but nobody give them a job because either they don’t want this size or height or form, and this is difficult for children, They think, “If I’m so good then why I have problem to get job?”
What’s the latest news with your company?
We opened the season with myself onstage in a Chabukiansi ballet Gorda (1950). It was famous ballet with a Georgian story. I’m restaging, everything new, I tried to work with projections and lighting. We also have a new Swan Lake by Alexei Fadayechev, really beautiful. It was absolutely sold out. We have Fokine program: Andris staged Firebird and I staged Les Sylphides and Spectre de la Rose. We will soon start rehearsals for company premieres by Kylián and Balanchine.
During your time as a ballerina and now as artistic director, how have you seen ballet change?
Before, each company had their own style: Denmark is Denmark; Russian is Russian, New York City Ballet was City Ballet. ABT was most combination. Now people are free to travel around. But today, what I see in competitions and Facebook, for example girls turning 15 turns. They’re doing something technically strong and amazing, but not a lot of people are expressive with emotion and with art. They don’t really live in the roles. The audience should enjoy performance, not just tricks.
Now there is so little time in company schedules to work deeply on a role.
This is also a problem. Everything becomes mechanical. We need time to recover, it’s so difficult to dance. I always love to have at least one day off if I do one big performance, I am tired—not technically, but tired in my insides.
What advice would you give young dancers participating in a competition like VKIBC?
When I was competing, my teacher told me, “I don’t need your medals. Just come out and dance as best you can do.” Just enjoy to be onstage with this wonderful public. If you have good results, wonderful. If not, don’t worry. Just love this beautiful art.Also be willing to criticize yourself. You need to see yourself in order to improve. And you need to have a little bit of humor in our job. Ballet is so difficult, you need to have humor to stay in it.
For more info on VKIBC click here, and for info on USA IBC, click here. To lern more about State Ballet of Georgia, click here and then click Translate. To see the video of my interview with Ananiashvili from 2010, click on Part I, Part II, and Part III.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.