One Last Dance: Life in the State Ballet of Georgia


On Saturday, February 10, the Tbilisi Opera House hosted a Modern Ballet Evening, featuring a trilogy of performances: Serenade by George Balanchine; Petite Cérémonie by Medhi Walerski; and Sechs Tänze by Jirí Kylián. The evening also saw the final performance of husband and wife Frank van Tongeren and Machi Muto in Georgia.

GEORGIA TODAY sat down with the couple to talk about their experience as members of the State Ballet of Georgia, and their plans for the future.

Tel us about yourselves and what brought you to Georgia?

Machi: I’m from Fukuoka, Japan. I started ballet because I was inspired by a friend’s performance. Until the age of 15, I trained at a local ballet school, before moving to London to continue my studies at the English National Ballet School.

Frank: I’m from Haarlem, The Netherlands. When I was a little boy, my older sister was taking ballet classes and I would join my parents to pick her up from the classes every now and then. Eventually, the curiosity got too strong and I asked to take classes as well: I was hooked as soon as I started! Soon after that, I saw professional male dancers perform on television and I decided to audition for the Ballet Academy in Amsterdam when I was nine years old.

Before Georgia, we were working at the Hong Kong Ballet, where Nina Ananiashvili came to set the ballet “Don Quixote.” We were inspired by her energy and enthusiasm while working in the studio and stayed in touch with her. About a year later, she invited us to work for the State Ballet of Georgia.

What are your thoughts about ballet in Georgia, the history, the culture, the style?

Frank: Georgia has a very rich history in ballet that is very much intertwined with the history of ballet in Russia. Actually, you can say that a lot of Russia’s, and ex-Soviet countries’ history has been influenced by Georgians. We can sense this, especially when working in the newly renovated Opera House. That sense of history and tradition has brought a very unique flavor to our experience working in Georgia!

Machi and I were more educated in the ‘European style,’ whereas here in Tbilisi the ballet company uses the Russian training. In the beginning it was a challenge to adapt, but it really helped us grow and combine the best of both worlds. What we really appreciate as part of the tradition here in Georgia is that when you perform a soloist or principal role in the classical repertoire, you get assigned a coach/ballet master that works with you to prepare you for the role. Compared to the other ballet companies we’ve worked with, the State Ballet of Georgia has many more coaches that can support individual artists/dancers.

How has the Georgian ballet scene changed in your time here? What is being done well, and what are some of the challenges that it is facing?

Machi: The company has premiered/revived many spectacular classical ballet productions in the time we’ve been here. The work could be quite intense, which is good, but the company hasn’t developed a proper support system for the dancers to look after their physical health.

Frank: When we arrived in Georgia the newly renovated Opera House was not open yet. To experience the company moving back into the theater, reviving many classics and also premiere several contemporary productions, has been a very unique experience to be part of, and I feel the company and its artists have definitely grown since when we arrived.

Machi’s right though: the company lacks proper support for the dancers in order to prevent injuries and rehabilitate those that have injuries. Compared to the companies in western Europe, there is no ‘in-house’ physiotherapist. When we worked at the Norwegian National Ballet for example, we had a whole health department for the dancers. In that department there was a physiotherapist, a doctor, a massage therapist/acupuncturist etc. free of charge for the dancers. Of course, this is an enormous investment, but in the end, we believe it is one of the necessities for the company to keep on growing. Another challenge is precision and clarity of what is expected from the dancers. This comes down to scheduling. Machi and I came to Georgia to learn and grow as dancers and artists in general and believe that Nina and the company has really offered that to us more than any other company could have offered to us at the stage we were at on our ‘dancing journey’. But in order for the company to keep both its foreign artists and Georgian artists more permanently in the company, proper working times and year schedules have to be added to the system of the company. Of course, when you love what you do, you can do it for hours without noticing time pass by, but some dancers have children that also deserve attention from their parent or, when it comes to the foreign dancers, they wish to plan ahead when they can visit their home country. At the Norwegian National Ballet, the dancers had the possibility to see the schedule 2 to 3 years ahead. Now that is maybe not necessary, but currently in Georgia the dancers usually don’t know what the plan is for tomorrow. These two points I believe will stabilize the company greatly, a company that has so many possibilities and that we both love so greatly!

What are your proudest achievements in Georgia, and what kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?

Machi: I won’t say proudest, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I received here and that Imet all these teachers I worked with.

Frank: I don’t like to use the word proud, either, but I’m very grateful for so many things the company has offered us. Working with Nina and the many coaches in the company has been such a pleasure. Making wonderful friends and exploring a country as beautiful as Georgia! I want to leave behind a joy and enthusiasm in whatever you do, whether it is dancing or cleaning your apartment! I wouldn’t want to put an end to anything, though, since surely we’ll be back in Georgia!!

What are your future plans?

Frank: Machi and I will be more based in Fukuoka, Japan. We have an organization there called the Fukuoka International Ballet Festival with which we organized a Gala performance in the summer of 2016, and several dance workshops since. We would like to have more time to focus on the development of our projects, since it had been very challenging to make proper plans working full time for the State Ballet of Georgia. At the end of March, we have a Spring Intensive for dance students organized in a beautiful studio in a natural surrounding next to the beach. We will be focusing on supporting students in their dance training as well as general well-being and creativity. This is why we have creative, anatomy and nutrition classes alongside the other dance classes. Please check our website: (we’re working on improving and updating it still). Further, Machi and I will be looking for opportunities as freelance artists and I want to expand my work as a choreographer. I really enjoy creating my own work, but haven’t had the chance to develop it as much, even though there has been an urge to get in the studio more just to create! In order to expand our knowledge on the well-being of body and mind, Machi and I will also travel to Thailand to train for one month to become certified Yoga teachers.

Máté Földi

15 February 2018 18:48