Ananiashvili decided she couldn't refuse. The government gave her the necessary financial support to rebuild the ballet's repertoire and artistic rigor. Both had fallen into decline during the long years of the 1990s, when dancers often went without pay for months and shivered in unheated dressing rooms. Bringing Ananiashvili back home to direct the national ballet and, not incidentally, to grace Tbilisi's ballet stage has been one of the cultural calling cards of post-Rose Revolution Georgia, proof of its ability to reconstitute an artistic sphere fragmented by civil war, demoralization and civic collapse.
There is no art form so dependent upon live transmission from one generation to the next as ballet. Virtually impossible to capture on paper, and turned to waxen lifelessness by digital means of transmission, classical ballet remains the responsibility of each generation of dancers to share with the next. With the renowned Ananiashvili at the helm, an opportunity exists for Georgia's young dancers to work in the forefront of the classical dance world.
Before she returned to Georgia, Ananiashvili had lived abroad for three decades, having originally gone away for ballet training in Moscow at age 13. In a sense, she'd already led three lives; her Georgian childhood as a figure-skating daughter in a family of geologists; her Soviet-era life in the Bolshoi, first as a prize-winning student, then as soloist and principal. Finally, the glasnost years and their aftermath, when the new openness allowed her to shoot from role to role across the globeappearing in Tokyo one week, at La Scala the next.
She and her partner, Andris Liepa, became the first Soviet pair to guest for a season with the New York City Ballet, the domain of the late master choreographer, George Balanchine, a cosmopolitan Georgian genius who created his dances for the American company he helped found. Ananiashvili took to his difficult modern work, according to dance critic Arlene Croce, "like a starved cat with a platter of crème fraíche."
Her life as the Georgian Ballet's artistic director is a fourth incarnation. When Ananiashvili arrived in September 2004, she had no experience as an artistic director. Nonetheless, she took charge of the repertoire, rehearsals, and the schooling of students. With 25 new ballets, and completely new stage décor and costumes, the Georgian ballet is garnering international attention. A critic from The New York Times wrote this spring: "The Georgians dance with the same musical directness and springlike charm as Ms. Ananiashvili."
In February and March 2008, the company will tour major venues in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. "We are young company, but we have big tradition; it didn't just start four years ago," Ananiashvili said. "And we now go out for the Georgian nameas independent country. Before, we Georgians were always part of Russia."
Though the November riots and unrest in Georgia's capital affected the ballet, Ananiashvili remains a supporter of Saakashvili.
During the subsequent state of emergency, the ballet's November performance schedule had to be postponed, and a visit from Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian was rescheduled for the fall of 2008. Ananiashvili is disappointed by such setbacks. She sees the building of an independent Georgia as a long-term process, and feels that the protestors went too far in disrupting civic life. "We need to live now; we need to continue. This is our country. They needed to understand this, the opposition. Some understood this, but others do not."
In her eyes, a single day of demonstrations would have been acceptable; a week of actions on the steps of parliament was not. "This is bad for our people, because we lost lots of things," she said.
In person, as her words suggest, Ananiashvili is without pretension, emotionally direct. On stage, she is pure motion.
As she dances in an October performance of George Balanchine's final ballet, "Mozartiana," at Tbilisi's Opera and Ballet Theatre, her arms are light as hummingbirds in flight. The line of her thrust-back shoulders is queenly. There is grief in her gaze during the final moments of the dance, as she blows out a candle. In private, Ananiashvili had dedicated the performance to her mother, who passed away recently.
Set to the music of Tchaikovsky, the 1981 piece has a commedia dell'arte lightness and a deep underpinning of melancholy: the farewell of a sensualist and master of dance to the world of women that he loved. Balanchine created the role for Suzanne Farrell, the last muse of his prolific career. He died two years later.
Farrell herself came to Moscow to teach the dance to Ananiashvili. In a sense, the circle is complete only now; Ananiashvili has brought ten works of Balanchine -- the most influential choreographer of 20th century ballet -- back to his ancestral land, Georgia.
Reared at the Bolshoi on a steady diet of dances by choreographers Marius Petipa and Yuri Grigorovich, Ananiashvili says that her "mind was totally changed" by the experience of dancing Balanchine's work in 1988, in her first New York City Ballet season.
"Ballet is theatre, not just movement. You always need to put your soul inside," Ananiashvili explained one recent afternoon. "You cannot learn this by book. It's something else when you have a personal coach, who can explain what no one else sees."
As a young teenager, Ananiashvili moved to Moscow for ballet school, leaving her family and her country behind. She recalls the loneliness she felt as a Georgian dance student, her Russian inadequate to get by in ballet school: "I was lucky to have my teachers, Natalia Zolotova and Raisa Struchkova, next to me in Russia because it was very hard period for me." Zolotova's picture still hangs in a place of honor in Ananiashvili's dressing room. Nearby, a black-and-white photo of the great Russian ballerina Struchkova, who became like a second mother to Ananiashvili at the Bolshoi, keeps her company.
"I was just this young girl who comes from school, and all the ballerinas of the great generation were dancing," said Ananiashvili. "I was lucky to have Raisa with me. Until the end we worked together. Now, when I'm teaching little kids here, I always have my teachers in my mind."
Pamela Renner, a regular contributor to The New YorkerÆs Goings on About Town and American Theatre magazine, is a Fulbright Scholar in arts criticism living in Tbilisi.