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State Ballet of Georgia

'Chaconne,' 'Duo Concertant,' 'Bizet Variations' and 'Sagalobeli'

by Toba Singer

Thursday, February 14, 2008 - Cal Performances, Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, California

George Balanchine’s “Chaconne” opens to the backdrop of a pale blue sky with very young-looking corps de ballet dancers who, hair unbound, bourrée as if their feet were just the tiniest plumes of vapor, to music from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera “Orfeo and Euridice.” They capture the gentle weight shifts that Balanchine loved to play with. A male dancer enters almost imperceptibly to take a slow diagonal walk downstage as the corps sweeps itself out of sight.  It is then that we really see her, Anna Muradeli, who will be the partner of the male dancer Vasil Akhmeteli in a brightly focused display of technical fastidiousness shepherded by the neoclassical lines that Mr. B's choreography demands of even Vaganova-trained dancers.  All goes swimmingly until the allegro requires the kind of feet that Russian men rarely have—pointed, articulate and fast—without them the pas de trois is a little slushy. Soloists Ana Turazahvili and Irakli Bakhtadze dance like Gemini twins, restore the lightness, whether dancing together or with their pas de quatre partners.

Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant,” on the other hand is a piece that Nino Gogua and Lasha Khozashvili totally “get.”  An onstage baby grand piano is played by John Parr who is accompanied on violin by Franklyn D’Antonio. Standing at the piano, Gogua and Khozashvili are serendipitously patient until they come center stage and take on the challenge of the Stravinsky score. The melody is almost atonal and leaves all the dance inclination to the bass.   The tic toc precision of the arms syncopated with sculpted feet on lifted beats, and the use by partners of the flashlight to reveal each other on a darkened stage lends a Pointillist texture and mood to the piece. Khozashvili, back to the audience, literally pets the air with her arms on one side and then the other as if she were changing the temperature in the house.  In the men’s variation Gogua makes ample use of his agile spine and well-placed arms; in the women’s, Khozashvili’s clean lines seem to invite the music to spill over her into the audience.  Their adagio has them folding in and out of one another, a leg extend here and there.

“Duo Concertant” is a nice prelude to Alex Ratmansky’s “Bizet Variations” which adds a lovely rondure to the program.  With dancers costumed in gentian and periwinkle-toned  “ballerina-length”  dresses with garlands of flowers encircling their hair, romance is in the air on this Valentine’s Day. While the steps are delectably Cecchetti-reminiscent with enchanting switchback jumps and guys who are bigger and stronger than in “Chaconne” doing work that is cleaner and clearer in motive, and women giving us generous and caring ballonés, there is nothing prissy or sentimental to mar the tasteful flourishes that appoint this chromatic piece. Nina Ananiashvili, the company’s artistic director and a world famous étoile, appears toward the end of the piece.  She is subtly impaneled into this triptych, not as a star, but shining brightly nonetheless.

The evening’s closer is Yuri Possokhov’s tribute to his Georgian roots, “Sagalobeli” introduced by a horn solo before the curtain opens. It forecasts that the theme of the piece is Georgian folk music.  In the program notes it states that Possokhov deliberately avoided using folkloric steps and gestures, and yet we do see the planted heel with upturned toe and the contrasting elevated jumps by the men interspersed with classical ballet steps and women dancing like milkmaids.  It seems a little forced, as if someone walked up to me and said, “Make a ballet based on the music of the Bronx” and feeling loyal to my home borough, I obligingly if reluctantly whip up something danceable to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the requisite funky chicken thrown in.  Let’s just say it wasn’t the kind of challenge that brought us “Magrittomania” or “Damned” by the same choreographer, and it didn’t inspire work on a par with those two pieces.

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