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Nina Ananiashvili dances Giselle
The State Ballet of Georgia's prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili dances the title role in "Giselle." (Photos courtesy Cal Performances)

State Ballet of Georgia launches first-ever U.S. tour at UC Berkeley

– The State Ballet of Georgia launches its first-ever U.S. tour at UC Berkeley today (Thursday, Feb. 14), presented by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall in shows that run through Sunday. The ballet's American visit highlights the once-struggling troupe's resurgence after an era of political repression and economic deprivation.

The Feb. 14-17 performances feature prima ballerina, artistic director and Georgian native Nina Ananiashvili. After Georgia's civil war ended in 2004, Ananiashvili was called upon by the president of the newly independent republic to help rebuild the tattered ballet company, which is based in the capital of Tbilisi.

Nina Ananiashvili
Nina Ananiashvili
The ballet's dancers had taken to wearing layers of clothing in their unheated rehearsal hall, but continued to perform even before the most meager audiences. After the Soviet Union's breakup, "everything crashed down," and the ballet stopped performing as a professional entity, recalled Ananiashvili in an interview on campus this week. But today, the State Ballet of Georgia is considered a world-class troupe and is challenging the long-held preeminence of Russian ballet.

Ananiashvili, whose parents introduced her to skating in an effort to improve her poor health as a child, is considered one of the most important ballerinas of her generation.  The former Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina and a continuing principal guest artist for American Ballet Theatre will perform in the solo spotlight tonight and also in her signature role in "Giselle" on Saturday. "Giselle" is one of her favorite ballets and one of the great romantic ballets of all time, she said.

Since Ananiashvili took the helm of the Georgian ballet, it has grown to 100 dancers and performed the works of 20 international choreographers. She said her home country's response to the ballet's revitalization and its full schedule of new, modern works combined with classical material has been "huge" and enthusiastic.

Cal Performances Director Robert Cole said Ananiashvili's work is well known around the world and that he has been working for 15 years to bring her to campus to perform.

State Ballet of Georgia dainces Sagalobeli
Members of the State Ballet of Georgia dance "Sagalobeli," with traditional Georgian choral music and choreographed by Yuri Possokhov.
"We try to bring something wonderful to Zellerbach that hasn't been seen anywhere else," he said, noting that the State Ballet of Georgia, which performed to rave reviews last summer on the East Coast, will move next to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, then to New York City, Chicago, Iowa and Minnesota. Here in Northern California, Ananiashvili is drawing patrons who are familiar with her reputation as a star ballerina, Cole said.

The company's mixed repertory tonight will introduce to American audiences for the first time a ballet by Yuri Possokhov, choreographer-in-residence at the San Francisco Ballet. It also will premiere work by the Bolshoi's Aleksei Ratmansky that is set to "Chromatic Variations" by Georges Bizet, as well as Balanchine's "Chaconne."

The troupe will perform "Giselle" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra will perform under Cole's direction in all programs in the series. Tonight's program also will feature traditional Georgian choral music performed live by a six-member ensemble.

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