Friday, November 17, 2006

Ballet Part One -- Of Things Familiar

So today was the first part of a ballet-filled weekend. Tomorrow we're going to see the Sukhishvili Dance Company -- traditional Georgian folk dancing taken to crazy extremes. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

But tonight we went to the Georgian State Ballet company's production of three of George Balanchine's pieces. This was very modern, very familiar. Balanchine, as you probably don't know, was the founder of the New York Ballet Company -- he was a choreographer and collaborator with Igor Stravinsky, and basically founded the American Ballet scene. What you also probably don't know is that he was Georgian: his original last name was Balanchivadze. Weird.

So. Aside from occasional clips of the Nutcracker on stage, I've never seen a true ballet. But I'm a fan of outmoded, dying esoteric art forms that masquerade as cultural acquisition projects for the very rich (I'm a poet, right?) so I thought I'd give it a shot. Plus, at just over $10.00 for floor-level seats, it seemed worth the price.

Ballet is... Pretty. Very pretty. It's not pyrotechnics. The dancers jump high, lift each other way into the air, and twirl for long periods of time, which looks (and must be) incredibly difficult... but I've seen more traditionally amazing feats of derring-do at the circus, and besides in this age of seen-it-all, matrix-style special effects, it's hard to be impressed by anything live. But the grace and beauty of the dancers is really worth watching.

And they really manage to tell a story. The first piece we saw, Serenade was beautiful and sad, with dancers circling each other and leaping, shrinking, collapsing on the ground, leaning on each other... The dancers were traditionally dressed, and there was no official "story" (the program simply said it was based on Balanchine's 'memories of St. Petersburg').

The second was a telling of how the muses brought their gifts to Apollo. It told that story effectively, and was also quite graceful and beautiful.

The last piece was a western. Men dressed as cowboys and women dressed as dance-hall ladies (*cough euphemism, cough*) sashayed and two-stepped, ballet style across the stage. Weird. I loved it. The wonderful orchestra built in all these old country folk songs.

Okay. But what made it great and strange was that it was all so familiar. Like a number of things in Georgia -- strange little vignettes, sitting on the bus, watching people cross the street, or children playing, or just wandering with K. back in the narrow streets near our little apartment, if you take out the strange letters and fonts, you could be in any European or American city. Some parts of Georgia are so familiar.

I'm sure the strangeness will present itself during tomorrow's dance performance.

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