In May 2004, when Nina Ananiashvili — a famed prima ballerina from Tbilisi, Georgia — was asked by the president of her native country to take on the great challenge of reviving its national ballet, she wasn't certain she was up to the challenge.
"Frankly speaking, the offer to come back to Tbilisi was a little unexpected for me," she writes in an e-mail interview — and understandably so. At the time, Ananiashvili — who has also danced with the Bolshoi, the Houston Ballet, and other companies around the world — was still busy dancing with the American Ballet Theater, finishing out the end of a 16-year career. She was their darling prima ballerina.
Regardless, she threw herself headfirst into the experience. Since then, she's come into her new role gradually.
"When you are dancing, you are thinking only about yourself and your partner. But when you are the artistic director, you have to think of everything: the performance, dancers, and every little detail," she explains.
Ananiashvili spent her first two years with the Georgian ballet focused on re-establishing their name and building their repertory. It hasn't been easy, and she's had to start from scratch — teaching the classics, while also creating original and exclusive opportunities for the National Ballet of Georgia to perform. She's brought in young instructors, like Tray McIntyre and Alexei Ratmansky, to stage one-acts like Leah and Bizet Variations for her dancers. Last October, the ballet staged the world premiere of From Siberia to Moscow by August Bournonville. Her company also has three programs of Balanchine, Ashton, and Kylian ballets. Did we mention she's also a mother of two?
Adding to her workload, Nina has remained an active ballerina through her leadership with the Georgia ballet. She will reprise the title role in Giselle for two of the performances in this year's Spoleto Festival (June 11 at 7 p.m. and June 12 at 8 p.m.). She also danced the part for the American Ballet Theater back in 2007, receiving accolades from New York Times critics who heralded her obvious love of dance — a perfect fit for the character of Giselle, who is also meant to be in love with dance itself.
In the ballet, Giselle is a naïve and sickly girl who falls in love with a nobleman disguised as a peasant named Loys. They flirt. She picks the petals off a daisy to see if Loys loves her. She discovers the nobleman's true identity and goes crazy, dying of a weak (I mean, broken) heart. In Act II, she rises from the grave. She protects her true love from the evil Wilis (female spirits who were jilted before their wedding day and seek to vengefully dance men to their deaths). Her pure heart is rewarded for its lack of vengeance with everlasting peace in death.
At Spoleto, Ananiashvili will partner with Vasil Akhmeteli. Ananiashvili calls Giselle "one of the most interesting and everlasting ballets," which all companies have in their repertory, and thought it a perfect follow-up to their 2007 Swan Lake performance, which was a "huge success." Spoleto directors wanted the National Ballet of Georgia to bring another classic to the annual Charleston festival, and so the Georgian ballet company had their version of Giselle staged and choreographed by Alexei Fadeychev.
"I think it will be interesting for the American audience to see our interpretation of Giselle," she says.
She reminds Charleston audiences that every interpretation of the role is different, and the same steps always look different done by different people.
"I try to give my company what I have learned," she says. "I try to give them a sense of style and taste, which people unfortunately begin to lose."
If the past 20-plus years of her career are any indication, she will be a Giselle to remember.