Armed with camera phones, the Georgians were out in force for “Nina” – Nina Ananiashvili to you and me, the beloved ballerina who retired from American Ballet Theatre in 2009 only to return to her native land and, as the state ballet’s artistic director and star, be adored all over again.
The fans screamed so piercingly after the 48-year-old did “The Dying Swan” that she did it again – better. The first time, the cobwebs clung to this century-old icon. The second time, her bourréeing feet moved in counterpoint to the longer rhythmic arc of her arms so you felt both the swan’s mortal struggle and its sorrowful resignation.
There were, however, reasons to be there besides Nina – such as the three Alexei Ratmansky chamber works in the State Ballet of Georgia’s sole possession that Ananiashvili and nine soloists beautifully realised. Ratmansky choreographed two of these ballets in the 1990s, when Ananiashvili was prescient in her enthusiasm for the then-unknown choreographer.
The usual problem of juvenilia – helpless imitation – does not touch The Charms of Mannerism and Dreams About Japan. Even then, Ratmansky was savvy about his borrowings. Early and late, he has loved his genres, stretching and mangling them until they give off new light. In the adorably comic Charms, a horny shepherdess straight out of a pastoral poem sends the boys fleeing into the arms of a tragic queen. In the one recent offering, Bizet Variations from 2008, the choreographer spells out the rivalries and betrayals behind the fluid hookups in the intimate piano ballets Jerome Robbins specialised in. (This week at City Center, American Ballet Theatre presents the Ratmansky piano ballet Seven Sonatas.)
Ratmansky resembles contemporary “literary” novelists who use genre fiction – sometimes several genres at once – as an elixir for the imagination. Jonathan Lethem sets a western in outer space and Jennifer Egan arrives at Gothic romance via slacker fiction and Henry James not simply to dazzle but to have the storied forms enrich their tales with accumulated webs of meaning. The sources in these early ballets may be more transparent and less deeply explored than they will later become, but in their recognition of how charged and malleable convention is, they are already the best news that ballet has had since Balanchine set modernism dancing in black and white.