Contemporary Ballet: Why are You Missing Out?
Though contemporary ballet is nothing new for many, and Georgia has been seeing it on-and-off (more off) since the mid-1970s, Georgian society is still struggling to get to grips with it. Artistic Director since 2004, Nina Ananiashvili has added many contemporary pieces to the repertoire of the State Ballet group, including Kylián, Ratmansky, Medhi Walerski, Yuri Possokhov, and choreographies by Teet Kask, Sasha Evtimova, Trey McIntyre and Jorma Elo. I, myself, have had little experience with the contemporary side of things; preferring to stick to the comfortable familiar. But then I went to last Thursday’s performance at the Tbilisi Opera House and my mind was literally transformed.
Previously a fan of the classics, and oft feeling in awe at the grace and magic of them, I can now say my tastes have changed. Never have I laughed at a ballet; never have I felt so engaged with the dancers; never have I seen the dancers so free, and clearly enjoying it- until last Thursday.
The ‘Evening of Modern Choreography’ on April 13 saw a three-act flow of inspiration, positive emotion, and raw human energy.
First up was ‘The Secret Garden’ with music by Sebastian Plano and Olafur Arnalds and choreography, costumes and scenography by Aleksandra (Sasha) Evtimova. The setting was a park. A large group of couples had come to enjoy the autumn air; to sit on benches or walk and talk. Some broke off to dance alone: the main couple being Diego Buttiglione and Ekaterine Lominadze, the latter at one point speaking aloud in English to her loved one (a shock to the ears of the classic-lovers!). The dances reflected human relationships: at times soft, gentle, loving; at other times wild, passionate and even hateful. I asked my seven-year-old daughter seated beside me how the first act had made her feel, and she said “sad.” I suppose the fantastic video animation (Predrag Milosevic) did tend towards the melancholy at the end: with the couples walking away from us into the sunset. But I, as a grown-up with more experience of the ups-and-downs of the average lifetime, also felt a sense of peace; of the inevitability of life, which always has an end.
Then onto the drums! The next wowzer, ‘Falling Angels’ by Kylian, had me and the audience glued to our seats, our jaws on the floor: a non-stop tribal beat with the female ballet dancers spotlighted and dressed in simple black leotards, all moving as one (with the occasional clever flick of a knee or hand to break the rhythm); their bodies pliable, twisting and turning into shapes that were almost familiar: “I see a bird! There’s a crocodile! They’re all crabs!” my daughter exclaimed in a too-loud voice at various points throughout the act.
Next came Medhi Walerski’s 'Petite Ceremonie'. Even as I write, it makes me smile to remember it. The curtain rose to reveal a stage empty of backdrops: we could see all the way to the brick wall at the back of the theater. Then a portly lighting man walked across the stage, his eyes focused on the light bar, which descended and rose again in test-style. At this point, the audience was awash with whispered exclamations: Why? How? Did something go wrong? Then a middle-aged lady came out with a large mop; then an elderly lady with another, cleaning the stage. Finally, a soloist appeared: David Ananeli, dressed in a suit. He walked on, looked around, and then started moving from foot-to-foot (“Does he need the toilet?” my daughter asked me in a too-loud voice). The other dancers slowly appeared from each doorway to the main auditorium, walking haphazardly down the aisles and climbing onto the stage. They gradually arranged themselves into a line and, once there, began the same foot-to-foot dance (my daughter was now giggling too loudly!). What came next was a mix of coordinated moves, shouting, running, jumping and solo improvisation; at times the dancers working in perfect unison; at times the stage in total fantastic chaos. I heard a monologue for the first time from a ballet stage when British dancer William Pratt came on, juggling balls, to talk about the Mind of a Man (with Georgian subtitles), occasionally asking his comedy side-kick, Frank van Tongeren, holding the mike, for his opinion and earning no more than a shrug: clearly an example of the “empty box within the male mind” that Pratt had highlighted. Petite Ceremonie was funny, exciting and thought-provoking, and was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.
My thanks go, sincerely, to Prima Ballerina and Artistic Director Nina Ananiashvili and her incredibly hard-working team of dancers and soloists- not only did you take me to a new and better place in my ballet adventure, but you made a great night out for a mum and daughter, too!
By Katie Ruth Davies