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.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.