With her small frame but exquisite form, Nina Ananiashvili captivated the crowd at the Arlington Theatre Tuesday night. She displayed the wonderment of the young girl, Giselle, while still maintaining the poise of a very experienced dancer, which led to minutes of standing ovations that only ended when the curtains came down.
Based on the Slavic legend of the Wilis – young girls who died before their wedding day and become fairies – “Giselle” is a story of love betrayed, and the power love has beyond the grave. Giselle and Count Albrecht – who is disguised as a peasant – fall in love, but when she discovers that he is betrothed to another, she goes mad with grief and dies. In the second act, the queen of the Wilis finds Albrecht and forces him to dance through the night, until he supposedly dies. However, Giselle – who has become one of the Wilis – steps in, dancing with Albrecht until the dawn, saving his life. Through her love, Albrecht has survived, even though he was the reason for her death.
The ballet has been performed since 1841 across the globe, and the State Ballet of Georgia did not stray from this classical interpretation. The sets were beautifully painted, with splashes of color on the leaves of the trees, which reached to the ceiling. Men wore tights and embroidered doublets, and the women long white tutus that flowed almost as gracefully as the dancers who wore them.
In the title role, Ananiashvili conveyed her character effortlessly. Her first moments on stage mirror that of a child in new surroundings; her face showed wonderment for the world around her, while she moved across the stage with more timid and cautious steps. Her dance of love with Albrecht, played by Vasil Akhmeteli, showed a great command of the role. Though Akhmeteli at first danced with some stiffness, he danced with strength and poise, demonstrating the structure with which ballet should be performed.
When Ananiashvili was on the stage, she captivated the packed theater’s audience. During the dances of the festival, she danced lightly on stage, as though she weighed nothing, the toes of her pointe shoes seemingly not touching the ground. During the festival dances, Ananiashvili did about a dozen perfect piqué turns in a wide circle, turning around the space of the stage to loud applause.
In the second act, the 20 dancers of the Wilis move together in groups of four, each group moving in perfect unison. Their long white tutus and white circlets emphasized the girls’ status as ghostly brides-to-be, pure in their dancing and beauty. The multiple layers of their skirts move slower than the dancers, emphasizing the ghostliness of the girls, as the skirts occupy the space the dancers were in just a moment before.
Once Giselle has become on of the Wilis, she has lost her child-like wonder of her world. She instead moves with a certain sadness, dancing with a beauty of one who has lost all yet is still full of love. The emotion Ananiashvili conveyed could be felt throughout the theater, and there were more than a few teary eyes as patrons left. Even though Akhmeteli had originally seemed stiff, his portrayal of Albrecht in mourning showed a range of character and movement that was lacking a little from in the first act.
The ballet was executed gracefully and with the structure expected of classical choreography. The dancers evoked emotion while managing a flawless performance, awing audience members who had seen it multiple times as well as those who had never seen it at all.