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Nina Ananiashvili and the Moscow Dance Theatre

'Green', 'Second Before the Ground', 'Leah'

by Cassandra

March 2, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Nina Ananiashvili is one of that very tiny number of dancers for whom no superlatives can ever be adequate. She is a goddess of the dance incarnate, blessed with a beauty of form and perfection of technique that occurs once in a generation; and her every appearance is an event to be cherished. Last night at Sadler’s Wells, together with her excellent company The Moscow Dance Theatre and a small group of top Bolshoi colleagues, Ananiashvili revealed herself in a totally different role; that of champion of new choreography.

It is unusual for a dancer of Ananiashvili’s stature to become associated with anything other than the customary “Big Ballet Star and Friends” format of programming and no praise is high enough for a dancer with the foresight to realize that ballet’s very existence depends as much upon the constant creation of new works as the drawing upon the art’s rich heritage.

The three ballets presented in London last night were all of a high standard: the opening work, “Green” by Stanton Welch displayed Ananiashvili’s flawless line to perfection and incorporated some eccentric but very beautiful arm movements into her solos. Bolshoi colleagues Andrei Uvarov and Dmitri Belogolovtsev contributed some impressive, finely controlled jumps and a female corps de ballet performed movements reminiscent of Balanchine’s “Serenade” – even having a girl falling to the ground centre stage at one point.

The green costumes that apparently give the work its title looked a little dingy in the mostly murky lighting, confirming theatrical lore that green is the most difficult colour to use on stage. The Vivaldi violin concertos were very attractive in themselves, but I’m not sure that the rhythms of the baroque are ever the best choice for classical ballet: either the choreographer must hope the dancers are fast enough to match each note with a step or, mostly the case in “Green”, the dancing ignores the musical messages and the music becomes simply background.

The music for the next item, “Second Before the Ground” choreographed by Trey McIntyre was credited to the Kronos Quartet and is clearly inspired by the music of Africa. This was a mostly very cheerful piece with some intricate beaten footwork for the male dancers proving that Russians really can perform batterie when they put their minds to it. Three couples flirted, canoodled and generally appeared to be having a jolly time so I was surprised that this was inspired by an African tribes’ belief that one’s happiest moments flash past a second before death. Not because the dancers didn’t look happy – they certainly did, but because there is so much gaiety involved, no one would have imagined the hand of death hovering over these folks without having read their programme first. That however is a very minor gripe as this work was highly enjoyable with a sunny set and matching bright yellow costumes lifting the spirits on a bitterly cold night.

Nina Ananiashvili has found herself a most uncharacteristic role in the final ballet of the evening, “Leah”. Choreographed by the new director of the Bolshoi, Alexei Ratmansky, this is dance drama at its most powerful. Based on the play “The Dibbuk” [by S. Ansky -- ed], this is about death, supernatural possession and exorcism in a Jewish community. In the title role Ananiashvili plays a young girl forced into an arranged marriage in spite of her love for a penniless student, Khonnon (Uvarov). Khonnon resorts to the dangerous writings of the kabala hoping to win Leah by spells and instead becomes a spirit (dibbuk) that invades Leah’s body. The rabbi Asrael is confident he can succeed in driving the dibbuk out, but this exorcism brings about Leah’s death.

Strong stuff! Ratmansky has created a genuinely sinister atmosphere in this ballet and gives the principals, minor characters and corps de ballet clearly defined personalities to recreate a claustrophobic society where religion can encompass dark beliefs and practices. Ananiashvili and Uvarov are superb as the doomed lovers, innocent and desperate at the same time and condemned to a horror film fate.

Ratmansky is to be applauded for the ability to tackle a narrative work using the classical vocabulary. It’s something that fewer and fewer choreographers are now prepared to do.

Edited by Jeff.

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