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LETTER FROM TBILISI.

There was an air of festivity last summer in Tbilisi, the capital of the republic of Georgia, and the local paparazzi were out in full force. Nina Ananiashvili came home to dance in a weeklong celebration honoring the memory of Georgia's great male dancer, Vakhtang Chabukiani. Ananiashvili arrived straight from American Ballet Theatre's New York City spring season. Her fans included the country's president, Eduard Shevardnadze, who attended the performance with a group of armed bodyguards. Adding to the excitement, Ananiashvili had invited David Makhateli, a young Georgian trained at the Tbilisi Choreographic Academy, to partner her in Giselle at the Paliashvili Opera House. Her own troupe of stars from the Bolshoi and Kirov also joined her for two performances.

Ananiashvili met twenty-three-year-old Makhateli, currently a soloist with Houston Ballet, when she created the title role in Ben Stevenson's Snow Maiden with that company. Impressed, she suggested they dance together during the Chabukiani week. Zurba Lomidze, the director of the Tbilisi opera house, welcomed the opportunity to present home-bred dancers.

Makhateli comes from a family of dancers. His grandfather was a member of the Georgian (National) Dance Company, and his father, Nugzar, was a principal dancer at the Tbilisi opera house before becoming director of the Tbilisi Ballet Academy. His mother, Marina, danced in the corps de ballet, and his twelve-year-old sister, Maya, is a talented student.

Taught by his father and Chabukiani at the academy, at age sixteen Makhateli won a bronze medal at the Diaghilev competition in Moscow, and the Hope Prize and a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School at the Prix de Lausanne. After graduating from RBS, he joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet for a year, then Dutch National Ballet, before receiving a contract a year ago from Houston Ballet. He is tall and long-limbed with a wonderful extension and neat footwork.

Makhateli's return to his hometown was an event--journalists besieged him for interviews and photos. Banners hung across Rustaveli Street, the main street in town, and posters were stuck onto every conceivable wall. "It's like a praznik [holiday] for us all," said one veteran eager to shake the dancer's hand. The theater was filled to overflowing, and though many tickets had not been bought--they cost approximately $30 each, two or three months' pay for many--every seat was taken, usually with two or three in it. Others sat in the aisles behind the numerous television cameras, or stood ten deep at the exits.

In his debut in Giselle Makhateli's dancing was strong and elegant. In rehearsal Ananiashvili explained and demonstrated the nuances of the role--passing down the. technicalities of her Bolshoi training as her own coach, Raissa Struchkova, had to her. Vakhtang Tabliashi, a revered regisseur, expressed in a television interview how happy he was that Nino and Dato (Georgian nicknames) had come home. "They brought us much happiness that had been lost for such a long time. Dato danced beyond my expectations for, after Chabukiani, I haven't seen anyone like that."

Two days after Giselle, at Ananiashvili's request, Makhateli also danced the Lion solo in Dreams of Japan, one of the two ballets that Ananiashvili and her group perform. The troupe--Alexei Fadeyechev, Sergei Filin, Inna Petrova, Dimitri Gudonov, and Tatiana Terekhova--all noted how quickly Makhateli learned the ballet, set to complicated percussion rhythms. Ananiashvili brings her own percussion group from the Bolshoi on tour as well as conductor Alexander Sotnikov, who worked miracles with the opera house musicians in Giselle.

At a dress rehearsal, the same orchestra, with the local conductor, played at a level acceptable only for a high school band. Because of the economic challenges Georgia has faced from both the civil war and from the country's newfound independence after fifty-five years as a Soviet republic, culture has suffered financially. Dancers and musicians had not been paid for three months, and though they did receive money for performing during the memorial week, salaries are low, and the cost of living is high. Pensioners from the company receive only $8 per month (bus fare is fifty cents), so many in the dancing world have emigrated in the past few years. Conditions backstage are bad, with splintering floors, peeling paint, and poor lighting in the studios, and, because of regular water shortages, there are usually no working toilets or showers. In the winter there is generally no heat, so the audience and musicians bundle up in hats, coats, and gloves, while the dancers have coats in the wings.

There was a lackadaisical air in the company class, with dancers doing what they wanted when they wanted. Yet the Chabukiani performances showed talent, good schooling, and enthusiasm in extracts from Heart Of the Hills, Laurencia, and Gorda. Even the orchestra pulled out all the stops and sounded acceptable--most of the time. Later in the week, a statue of Chabukiani was unveiled at his grave on Mount David.

Perhaps the difficult conditions in Georgia make strong dancers, for in recent years the Tbilisi Academy has produced such outstanding dancers as Mikhail Lavrovsky, Igor Zelensky, Irma Nioradze, and Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Next year the theater is planning an international competition in memory of Chabukiani with rounds including choreography by Chabukiani and Balanchine.
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Title Annotation:Tbilisi Ballet Academy, Georgia
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:863
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