Georgia on my mind

Nina Ananiashvili returns to New York with a taste of her heritage.

 WOMAN OF THE YEAR Ananiashvili stands tall.

WOMAN OF THE YEAR Ananiashvili stands tall.

In recent years, Nina Ananiashvili has given birth twice. The first time was literal (her daughter was born two years ago on Valentine’s Day) and the second more figurative: In 2004, she took over directorship of the State Ballet of Georgia where, under her leadership, the company has become a new force in the field. This week, with two programs including dances by George Balanchine, Yuri Possokhov and Alexei Ratmansky, the troupe performs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Ananiashvili, who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, is a respected ballerina in her own right, best known for her work with companies like American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet. “Nina is international,” says Ratmansky, the Bolshoi’s director, “but she never lost her roots.” Still, when Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili first proposed that she take over the State Ballet, Ananiashvili admits that she hesitated.

“I was not ready quite to make this decision because it was so fast,” she recalls in a telephone interview from Tbilisi. “I told him, ‘If I knew this and that, then maybe I could say yes,’ and he said, ‘You know we will try to do everything you need, but please don’t say no because we really mean it, and we really want to start working.’ And then I really couldn’t say no.” She laughs. “It’s always easy to arrive when everything is ready, but it’s so difficult to start from the beginning.”

Many artistic directors stop dancing once they take charge of a company, but Ananiashvili will appear in several ballets during the BAM engagement, including Balanchine’s Chaconne (it has long been a dream of hers to dance the principal role, originally created for Suzanne Farrell) and Ratmansky’s 1998 Dreams about Japan and his new Bizet Variations. Ananiashvili was one of the first to spot Ratmansky’s talent; in 1997, he created Charms of Mannerism for her touring group. The next year, he choreographed Dreams, a work for seven set to Japanese drum music. For his part, Ratmansky is a bit nervous about the return of Dreams. “It is ten years old,” he says. “I haven’t seen it for a long time. It was fun to do, but I think I’ve changed a lot since then as a choreographer.”

But he is impressed with the State Ballet, which has introduced 27 new productions since Ananiashvili took over. “You know, it was a really difficult period before I came here,” she says. “Everything was really hard because there was absolutely no money. Of course, they couldn’t make new costumes or have new creations. They didn’t even have normal pointe shoes! Now, what we have in the repertory is really amazing. I can say that I am not ashamed or shy to show the company to anybody in the world.”

State Ballet of Georgia is at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House Fri 29–Sun 2.