One The Rise: Victoria Jaiani

July 19, 2007
You can easily appreciate the exquisite, understated dancing of 19-year-old Victoria Jaiani—a member of the Joffrey Ballet since the summer of 2003—without knowing anything about the chaotic recent history of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Yet the more you do know about that history the easier it is to understand why Jaiani left her native country at the age of 16, and how she had the gumption to succeed in the United States. As for her rapid rise in the Joffrey, credit that to her delicate, dark-eyed, cameo beauty, her slender, long-legged physique, her easy musicality, and a certain ineffable quality that hints of a bygone century. Add to the mix a blithe sense of emotional balance, too.
Jaiani made her debut with the Joffrey as Juliet in John Cranko’s
Romeo and Juliet
. In April 2004 she was featured in the serene Monotones II on the opening night of the Lincoln Center Festival’s Ashton celebration at the Metropolitan Opera House—a high-profile, high-pressure assignment that also marked the Joffrey’s first appearance in New York in 10 years. This spring, Joffrey artistic director Gerald Arpino will revive his 1983 work, Round of Angels, with Jaiani in mind.
Asked about the shock of seeing her name on the casting list for Romeo and Juliet just a month or so after joining the company, Jaiani giggles and says: “I was so new, I didn’t even know how things worked, so I just thought, ‘This has got to be a mistake.’ ”
Jaiani was born in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Her mother was a pianist, her father an auto engineer, and her sister, 11 years her senior, played violin. “When my sister came back to Tbilisi in 1995, things were really tough,” Jaiani recalls. “The electricity and running water were on again and off again. I would have to run home from school on the days I knew I could take a bath. My sister could not live like that and finally left to study in New York.”
By this time Jaiani had become a student at the conservatory school of the Georgian National Ballet where, at the age of 10, she had gone with her grandmother to see her first ballet,
La Fille mal gardée
. As she notes: “That was it; I knew I had to be a dancer from that moment on.”
Knowing how serious Jaiani was about her dancing, Jaiani’s sister, who had by then settled on Long Island, suggested Victoria send a tape so that she could take it around to schools in New York. “My sister took the tape to the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of American Ballet. I was accepted at both, but my teacher knew about the Joffrey and said, ‘Go there,’ and they offered me a three-year scholarship.”
Her first summer in New York was difficult. She spoke no English and commuted from her sister’s home by train, walking a mile from Penn Station to the Joffrey School because she was forbidden to take the subway by herself. “I had a couple of months of silence,” she recalled. “And I was used to 10 or 15 dancers in a big room and getting lots of corrections, and here it was 30 people in a tiny studio and no one even knew my name.”
But she thrived under the tutelage of Francesca Corkle, the former Joffrey star, and Elie Lazar, artistic director of the school’s Joffrey Ensemble Dancers (see “Young Dancer,” DM, August, 2003). And in 2003 she won the Bronze Medal in the New York International Ballet Competition.
Arpino admits he “fell head over heels in love with her on first sight—her whole stature, the shape of her head, her lightness. And she has an inner glow about her. You give her a movement and she extends it to another dimension.” 
Jaiani’s dream? “I’d love to dance a full-length
Swan Lake
and make that transition from White Swan to Black Swan with just a 15-minute break.”
Hedy Weiss is dance critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.