Friends of Georgian Ballet Get Unique Tete-a-Tete with Prima Ballerina

The Friends of Georgian Ballet, a group of ladies and gentlemen- all ballet enthusiasts -of various nationalities, were able to enjoy an exclusive tete-a-tete with Prima Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, seven leading young stars from the Georgian State Ballet Company and their guest and guiding light for the upcoming season opener, Ben Huys, Belgian repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust and internationally renowned choreographer, here from the US to give just four weeks of training.

The Friends of the Georgian Ballet, a non-profit organisation established in 2006, aims to help the State Ballet of Georgia with various programs, providing scholarships for promising young ballet students and supporting the participation of the Ballet Company’s dancers in prestigious ballet competitions and master classes all over the world. 

The Tbilisi Z. Paliashvili Opera and Ballet State Theatre will hold the opening performance of its 164th season at the Tbilisi Concert Hall on Friday, 9th October at 20:00. Prima Ballerina and Artistic Director, Nina Ananiashvili, will be performing at the event. The Ballet Company will introduce two one-act ballet premieres: “Symphony in C” by George Balanchine and “Le Spectre de la Rose” by Mikhail Fokin. The program also includes Balanchine’s “Serenade”. 

The gala will be accompanied by the Orchestra of the Tbilisi Z. Paliashvili Opera and Ballet State Theatre.

Georgia Today had the honor of hosting the interview/round-table, in the process finding out what has been going on behind the scenes of preparation for the opening of the new ballet season and what expectations are had for the upcoming performances and the Georgian ballet scene in general.

Ben Huys: “I started ballet dancing when I was seven- I hadn’t seen ballet before that but when a school in our village offered lessons, I joined. My desire to dance came from within. When I was 12, I joined the professional ballet school in Belgium [Antwerp]. I then won the 1985 Prix de Lausanne which got me a scholarship to the NYC Ballet Company. I loved the aesthetic there. I’d heard of Balanchine, seen the pictures and the repertoire, and I decided I was going to do everything I could to join. When I retired from the stage, having danced most of the repertoire of the NYC, I expressed my interest in working for the Balanchine Trust. That’s how I ended up assigned to Georgia, one of the best companies in the world.”

“I’m thankful to Balanchine Trust for their 25 years of support for Georgian State Ballet,” Nina says. “They have a brilliant work ethic- if they say they’ll do something, they do it! In my 10 years with the Georgian State Ballet, we have done nine Balanchine ballets. Some will be in this season’s repertoire, some not, but those not will be brought back in future. It was my dream to show Symphony in C to Georgia.”

Nina performed Symphony in C for the first time on ‘Balanchine’s’ stage in NYC. “Then with the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden, then the Bolshoi in Moscow, but I never had a chance to dance it here.” The original idea of the State Ballet Company was to reopen the Opera House with Balanchine but renovation works on the building are expected to continue until December. Nina says, however, that the Company will be performing Balanchine there at some point this season and, in the meantime, will continue to stage both classic and contemporary ballet works in the Gribodoev Theatre.

Bizet composed his Symphony in C major when he was a 17-year-old pupil of Charles Gounod at the Paris Conservatory. The manuscript was lost for decades, and was published only after it was discovered in the Conservatory’s library in 1933. Georgian born George Balanchine first learned of the long-vanished score from Stravinsky. He needed only two weeks to choreograph it as Le Palais de Cristal for the Paris Opera Ballet, where he was serving as a guest ballet master. When he revived the work the following year for the first performance of the New York City Ballet, he simplified the sets and costumes and changed the title. We asked Huys what he felt when performing Symphony in C.

“It’s challenging. The movements are very quick, very specific. I’ve danced the first movement a lot and I still get stressed when I hear it. That first movement is under-appreciated. Audiences are sitting waiting for second part- an adagio - to come on. But it’s thrilling music and brilliant choreography. That last note really gets you out of your seat. Fantastic.”

“The most difficult aspect of our training [for Symphony C] was to count,” added Nina. “In our [company’s] preparation we count as a standard: ‘And one, and two…’ Balanchine, however, being a musician and composer, starts down (on the one) so there were a lot of missed steps.”

“I had to correct their instinct every day,” Huys says, laughing. “Each dance company has its own style. The Georgian dancers needed to train in the [Balanchine] speed and different technique. They have to get it in their bodies, breathe it; feel it in their bodies. But I’m definitely pleased with their progress. They’ve applied themselves and have been working very hard. I have high expectations for the opening on October 9th.”

Georgia Today heard from some of the seven soloists in the room, three of whom were Georgian and had been ‘brought up’ by Nina in the State Ballet School- Nutsa Chekurashvili, Nino Samadashvili, and Eka Surmava. The international members- Brit William Pratt, American Philip Fedulov, Dutch Frank van Tongeren and Japanese Yonen Takano – all seemed to have ended up in Georgia for one reason: the chance to dance with Prima Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili.

William told us: “Nina was the main reason for me joining the Georgian ballet. When you’ve got this ballerina and this repertoire, well, there aren’t many ballet companies in the world like it.”

For her part, Nina complimented her team: “They are all motivated, full of energy. It’s not easy to wake every day, body hurting, needing to warm up. But then you start dancing and you get addicted all over again- each and every day. This is the life of a professional ballet dancer.”

We asked Nina about the motivation of the next generation of Georgian ballet dancers. She pointed out the continuing stigma against boys participating in ballet dance in Georgia- where Georgian dance is considered traditionally more masculine. Of the 300-odd students in the State Ballet School (up from 120 in past years), only 20 are boys. Nina is not discouraged by this, however. “Look at these boys,” she exclaimed. “They are all muscle. We are here to change this mentality and show the strength of the ballet dancers.”

About the Friends of the Georgian Ballet: The Friends have a special relationship with the Georgian Ballet – they receive information on the Company’s news, upcoming performances and other events on a regular basis, invitations to special celebrations (e.g. the season opening reception and scholarship awarding ceremony, Opera House tour, book presentation) where they can meet and interact with Nina and the Ballet Company’s soloists in person and get to know more about the life of the Georgian Ballet. For more information or to join, contact: 

Katie Ruth Davies

08 October 2015 21:12