In the last 16 years Ananiashvili has performed a number of leading roles in the classical repertory. But Swan Lake has been her calling card. The role of Odette-Odile was the first she danced with the Company, even though: as with many backstage decisions: it was a last-minute substitution.
"Everyone was sick. I wasn't ready to dance it," Ananiashvili recalls, adding that when her partner was unavailable that night, the call went out to Julio Bocca. "He said, 'Let's go to the studio to see.' We had one and a half hour before the show."
No matter, really. Ananiashvili has the plucky spirit of a dancer who can meet any challenge and charm everyone in the process. Since that first performance in 1993, she became a regular guest artist who helped shape the image of the Company. Her special relationship with ABT, however, comes to a close this season. On June 27, Ananiashvili will bid farewell to the Company with a final performance of Swan Lake.
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Ananiashvili began performing at a young age, but not in ballet. Her first love was ice skating. "When I was ten years old, a ballerina came to teach us choreography. She had us using our arms more and dancing. She thought I had more talent in ballet," she said.
When it came time to choose between ice skates and pointe shoes, the decision came easily. After performing a version of The Dying Swan on the ice: with "real feathers and a real tutu": her hunger for more ballet took over. She later attended the Moscow Ballet School and then joined the Bolshoi Ballet. After dancing with numerous companies, including Boston Ballet and New York City Ballet, she became a regular highlight of American Ballet Theatre's seasons. In February 2004, she gave birth to daughter Helene, and in September of that year was appointed the artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia.
In her farewell season with ABT, Ananiashvili will give her American audiences plenty to remember her by. The choice of Swan Lake as a finale was a natural one, not only because it was her starting point. Ananiashvili is uniquely suited to this most classical ballet. Her dramatic abilities give her White Swan a haunting vulnerability and sadness while her Black Swan has a diabolical power. At the same time, her exacting technique gives her White Swan the most birdlike flutters to be found on stage; it also makes her Black Swan a precise seduction machine.
"Not everyone can perform Swan Lake. The difficulty is that you have to be lyrical, but also you need to be like a devil and sexy," she said. "Technically, it's very difficult and very exciting."
Also on her schedule are full-length classics: Giselle, Le Corsaire, and La Sylphide: and Balanchine's Mozartiana, a ballet that has had special importance for her since she danced it first at the Bolshoi. "My husband came to me one day, and said 'I have a present for you. I arranged for the rights for you to dance Mozartiana," she said. "It was a huge success. This is not bravura. This ballet is Balanchine's requiem."
In the Soviet years, Russian dancers were not able to see a lot of Balanchine ballets, but when learning Mozartiana, Ananiashvili was taught the ballet by Suzanne Farrell, the dancer on whom Balanchine choreographed the work.
When dancing this ballet, Ananiashvili looks within to communicate ideas and inflect the steps with her personality. "All of Balanchine's ballets are about something. It's not a full libretto, and you don't have movements and mime. You show it by your soul and technique," she said.
While the Ananiashvili departure is unfortunate enough, it also comes at a time when choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has just entered ABT's roster as Artist in Residence. Ananiashvili and Ratmansky collaborated at the Bolshoi in 1989 on Dreams of Japan. "It presented the dancers as totally different characters. It was very special and modern. It was Kabuki, but not with irony." One only knows what we might have seen with these two talents in the same place again.
But for this dancer, it's time to move back home. Ananiashvili's retirement from ABT is part of a larger lifestyle change. Now, she will be living full time in her native country. "I love it. I am so busy in Georgia. I have a company, a school, and a child," she said. And not only that, her husband was recently appointed to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. "Now I need to be the wife!" she said.
She does anticipate, however, a tearful, emotional goodbye on June 27. "I will really miss ABT. It was a successful, happy period for me," she said. "Always when I come here, people would say, "Nina! Welcome back home.' Always with these words. It did not feel like I was a guest artist."
And when asked who she will miss, she has a list as long as an Academy Award winner. "All my partners, of course, Julio Bocca, Angel Corella, Jose Carreê±o, and Marcelo Gomes. I am so happy to work with them. Each person gives you something. I was always so happy each year to see [ABT ballet mistress] Irina Kolpakova in the studio and [ABT Artistic Director] Kevin McKenzie. I will miss all the choreographers," she said. "And Nancy Ellison and Bill Rollnick, who brought me here. They are my American family."
New York City itself is hard to give up, too. And like many people who come to the city expecting only to stay for a short time, she has real estate envy. "It's been 16 years since I started coming to New York. At that time, it was much cheaper to buy an apartment. But I thought 'Why do I need it? I don't stay there all year.' "
Even without a pre-war Classic Six apartment, it was her friends and fans that have made New York a special place. "I am always so thankful for people who come to the theatre to see the ballet. Each ticket supports the art," she said. "I have good feelings in New York because I have friends here."
And they will surely turn out on June 27.
For tickets and information on Ananiashvili's final ABT performance, visit American Ballet Theatre.
Pia Catton writes about the arts, culture, and fashion at Trueslant.com