Anticipation High Behind the Scenes at the Tbilisi Opera House

Once more GEORGIA TODAY got the chance to meet the Friends of Georgian Ballet in the presence of Georgia’s Prima Ballerina, Nina Ananiashvili, recently voted amongst the Top Twelve Ballerinas of All Time by the UK media outlet, Telegraph, and a number of her soloists.

The informal meeting took place in the stunning Blue Hall of the newly renovated 19th century Zakaria Paliashvili Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre which is due to officially re-open next week with famed opera ‘Abesalom & Eteri’ by composer Zakaria Paliashvili and librettist Petre Mirianashvili, following a six year USD 20 million renovation. The Georgian State Ballet Company will perform their first show there on February 12th at 20:00, having spent the past six years alternating between the grand stages of the Tbilisi Concert Hall and Griboedov Theatre. There will be a total of three performances of Gorda at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre: on February 12th at 20:00, on February 13th at 20:00, and on February 14th at 14:00.

“It is something special to dance here,” Nina said. “We are very excited to be back.”

Nina chose ‘Gorda’ as the performance with which to re-open the Opera to ballet. Written in 1949 by famed ballet dancer and choreographer Vakhtang Chabukiani, it is a challenging composition to take on.

“The characters of Gorda are both emotionally and physically hard to play,” Nina said.

Gorda tells the story of love, jealousy, anger and revenge. The multi-national soloists due to play the main parts are: Lali Kandelaki, Nutsa Chekurashvili, Eka Surmava, Nino Samadashvili, Philip Fedulov, David Ananiashvili, and William Pratt.

Nutsa Chekurashvili, one of the young Georgian soloists who will play the role of Javara, gave special thanks to her instructor Liliana Mitaishvili, one of the original Chabukiani dancers, who not only taught the girls how to play Javara, but also herself had to adapt to the times and modernizations that Nina had chosen to implement.

In terms of design, Nina chose for this special two-act performance a natural look, with reflections of both East and West in the scenography and costumes.

Production designer, David Monavardisashvili, showed us his beautiful sketches- detailed scenes on black card divided by scaled down 1m x 1m squares- a grid system with which they were able to paint the design onto the canvas: “I and two assistants spent four months painting the huge backgrounds by hand,” Monavardisashvili said. “They are a mix of Georgian colours and Eastern concepts. There are nine scene changes in total, able, thanks to the modern machinery installed in the Opera, to be changed in minutes.”

“In the old days a single performance would have four acts and the backgrounds changed by hand- meaning intermissions needed to be at least thirty minutes long and a full performance could last anywhere up to six hours!” Nina informed us.

The costumes, designed by Ana Kalatozishvili, took three months to prepare, including sourcing the materials and ornaments, and with the need of a much larger team than that used by Monavardisashvili. Each costume is a work of art- sewn, painted and put together with the approval of Nina, and bringing each character to vibrant life.

One of the Friends asked the dancers how they prepare for a performance.

“Eat and sleep,” American soloist Philip Fedulov said simply.

“Rest and save up my emotions and energy for the performance,” Georgian soloist David Ananiashvili told us.

The last was a sentiment echoed by many. Nina added that often time constraints- or limited availability of the stage (due to use by other dancing, singing or theatre troupes)- mean that the dancers are forced to have class, rehearse, then almost immediately jump on stage for the final performance.

“I do try to spend time the day before a performance quietly focussing myself,” Nina said, taking a moment to thank her daughter Elena for being so understanding and adaptive to her extra-active mother.

Though clearly exhausted from the hard preparations for not only Gorda but the new-performance-every-month future plans for the current ballet season, there was a definite sense of pride and excitement to be seen in the dancers’ eyes.

“It was always my dream to dance this dance, and to dance it here,” David Ananiashvili said.

“Before Georgia, I was performing in a contemporary theatre in New Zealand,” British dancer William Pratt told us. “The first day I arrived here, I was brought to the Opera House. When I came out on stage my jaw hit the floor. Back then it was old and worn, but still- the size of the stage and the huge chandelier were just incredible!”

That wow-factor is something that many, including this author, are looking forward to experiencing first-hand when the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre finally re-opens its doors.

Katie Ruth Davies

21 January 2016 22:16