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U.S.: Balanchine Festival Concludes In New York With Georgian Traditional Dances

Traditional dances performed by the Georgian State Dance Company concluded the centenary of the birth of George Balanchine, celebrated over the past year in New York City. The Russian-born Balanchine, who is of Georgian descent, is credited with nearly single handedly creating contemporary American ballet. His company, the New York City Ballet (NYCB), rose to world prominence on the strength of Balanchine's stripped-down, deeply musical works. The City Ballet played host to the Georgian dancers who presented a diverse repertoire of traditional and contemporary dances on three consecutive nights ending on 27 June.

New York, 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In an appropriate finale, one of George Balanchine's favorite dance troupes closed out the centennial celebration of the ballet master by sharing the stage with the New York City Ballet, which Balanchine elevated to prominence.

The 80-member Georgian State Dance Company performed a program mixing contemporary works with traditional Georgian dances like the Kasbeksky, Jeirani, and the Kartuli, a rapid, elegant duet in which the male partner never touches his female counterpart.

The City Ballet, for its part, presented several Balanchine works, including "Monumentum pro Gesualdo," and "Movements for Piano and Orchestra," both performed to music by Igor Stravinsky.

Nino Sukhishvili is the manager of the Georgian dance company. Speaking to RFE/RL on the first day of the troupe's three-day sweep of performances, she noted that it was the first time the dancers had performed on Balanchine's home turf.

The Georgian State Dance Company was founded by Sukhishvili's grandfather, Iliko Sukhishvili. She says her grandfather first met Balanchine in 1962, and that the two men found a common passion in the two companies they had founded.

"[Years later], when they met each other in Hamburg, in Europe, and George [Balanchine] saw our performance he told my grandparents: 'You made the right choice because you did a very good thing, because it is a very good company.' He loved to see our performances; he saw them many times, in the United States, in Europe and also in Georgia in 1962. He met my grandfather and grandmother, we have a lot of photos of them together and with the company," Sukhishvili said.

Balanchine's fondness for the Georgian State Dance Company was a life-long affection. The decision to feature the company at the closing of the yearlong celebrations marking the centenary of Balanchine's birth shows the choreographer's appreciation for the Georgian troupe.

The fathers of both Balanchine and Iliko Sukhishvili were well-known composers in pre-revolutionary Russia, and their families were close. Sukhishvili was three years younger than Balanchine, and the two worked together in St. Petersburg before Balanchine left Russia in the early 1920s.

Nino Sukhishvili says Balanchine admired the traditional Georgian dances, many of which require extreme technical skill. At the same time, Balanchine -- whose tall, long-legged female dancers were the primary source of his creative inspiration -- often tried to talk Sukhishvili into adapting the traditional Georgian choreography in ways that would allow women to play the leading role.

"George Balanchine had his favorite Georgian dances. One of his favorite Georgian dances was the Khorumi. It's a very interesting old dance -- just male dancers perform and it's a military dance, with very interesting choreography. And he loved this dance and he always asked my grandparents, 'Why don't you try to make the same dance, but performed by female dancers?'" Sukhishvili said.

In the Georgian tradition, it is the male dancers who are more prominent. Trained in a highly original technique that is unlike any other form of traditional dance, the Georgian males are capable of dancing on pointe -- on the tips of their toes -- without the aid of toe shoes.

Nino Sukhishvili tells RFE/RL that she vividly remembers George Balanchine's visit to Tbilisi in 1962. That year marked the triumphant tour of the NYCB throughout the Soviet Union that was Balanchine's only return to his homeland.

"I was a little girl, but I remember [it] quite well because George Balanchine came to our house, he was a guest of my grandparents. And he also visited the Opera hall. I saw the ballets which were created by George Balanchine," Sukhishvili said

The Georgian company's performances were their first on the New York City Ballet stage. But the Georgian dancers are well known throughout the United States and have toured the country many times since the 1970s.

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