New York ballet season ends on a classical note

July 16, 2008 5:28:12 PM PDT
She's a good two decades older than many of her fellow dancers, a mother and director of her own ballet company. But Nina Ananiashvili was so light on her feet, so delicate as American Ballet Theatre's fragile young Giselle that she could have been a teenager. Except, of course, for the maturity of her technique and control, honed over years of dancing the classics. The 45-year-old Ananiashvili will not retire from ABT until next year, but her performances of "Giselle" last weekend had the feel of a preretirement celebration, with affectionate New York audiences tossing bouquets at her feet.

A week of "Giselle" at the Metropolitan Opera House marked the end of a varied and rewarding spring ballet season in New York, the only time each year when both ABT and New York City Ballet, across the Lincoln Center Plaza at the New York State Theater, perform at the same time.

NYCB's season was especially impressive. Its Jerome Robbins celebration was an exhaustive (and, one might imagine for the dancers, exhausting) display of the breadth of this master choreographer. The company staged 30-odd Robbins works, along with some George Balanchine classics and sprinklings of other choreographers, including Russia's Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of the Bolshoi.

"Fancy Free," "Dances at a Gathering," "Afternoon of a Faun" and, of course, "West Side Story Suite" were just a few of the Robbins works lovingly presented. Damian Woetzel shone throughout, in his final season as a dancer after 23 years with the company. The melancholy that fans felt at his departure must have been muted somewhat by the knowledge that this was a dancer truly leaving in top form.

But it wasn't all Woetzel. At the very end of its season and after his departure, the company reintroduced "Brahms/Handel," a 1984 collaboration between Robbins and Twyla Tharp that it had not danced in more than 15 years. It was a crowd-pleaser, a neat combination of Tharp's bumps and twists with Robbins' more classical moves. As if playing color war at some lovely summer camp full of great dancers, Robbins' "team" was in blue, Tharp's in green. The fun really started when they began to spill over into each other's territory.

Over at ABT, the Tharp event was not quite as smoothly received. The world premiere in June of "Rabbit and Rogue," starring the terrific Ethan Stiefel and Herman Cornejo, not to mention Paloma Herrera in top form, was viewed by many as chaotic, frenetic, disjointed. But it was still rich and fascinating to watch, and without it, ABT's season would have been much less interesting, a collection of mostly loved but familiar classics performed nearly every spring.

"Giselle," though, never gets old, with its corps dancers doing those lovely hopping arabesques. Indeed, this is a ballet full of arabesques, and one of the loveliest belonged to the fleet-footed Ananiashvili. Artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia back home, she is nonetheless a huge audience favorite in New York, and her retirement next year should be one of the tougher tickets in the dance world.


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