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Nina Ananiashivili
Women in Dance

Nina Ananiashivili

A rare dancer who moves across national and stylistic boundaries, Ananiashvili inhabits characters created by Bournonville and Balanchine with equal aplomb.


Written and Curated by Maura Keefe
Photo by Nancy Ellison

Nina Ananiashvili and Principals of the Bolshoi Ballet

Prima ballerina and artistic director Nina Ananiashvili is at home on stages around the world. She has performed with the Bolshoi, Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Danish Ballet (the first Russian ever invited to perform with them in Copenhagen), among many, many other companies. Ananiashvili is the rare dancer who moves across national and stylistic boundaries, inhabiting characters created by Bournonville and Balanchine with equal aplomb. She has portrayed Giselle and Juliet, firebirds and fairies. She first appeared at the Pillow in 1999, with a production called Nina Ananiashvili and Principals of the Bolshoi Ballet. The PillowNote written Jacob’s Pillow scholar-in-residence Suzanne Carbonneau placed Ananiashvili and the Bolshoi Stars’ appearance in the context of Russian ballet history.

The evening included two works by not-yet global superstar choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, the first performances of Ratmansky’s dances in the United States.

Charms of Mannerism

Ananiashvili first made a splash in the United States when she competed in the 1986 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. Recalling that performance in July 2016, noted ballet dancer and artistic director John Meehan said, “It was clear to those who were there that she would have an important career. She soon became the reigning ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet, a great star of the American Ballet Theater, and a frequent guest artist in companies throughout the world.”Globenewswire, https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/06/28/851902/0/en/Nina-Ananiashvili-and-the-State-Ballet-of-Georgia-to-make-rare-U-S-appearance-at-July-16-Grand-Prix-Reunion-Gala-in-Jackson-Mississippi.html, retrieved 20 September 2016

The Founding the State Ballet of Georgia

In 2004, Ananiashvili received an invitation from the president of Georgia to become artistic director of the State Ballet Company. At first surprised by the offer, Ananiashvili came to see it as an opportunity to do something with her people. She already had more than 100 roles in her repertory. So why not take another one? That of artistic director. That said, she became more than the artistic director; she has also been a principal dancer.

When Ananiashvili’s position was announced, Ismene Brown of Britain’s The Telegraph remarked:

The last time a star ballerina founded a national company with her president’s help for political glory was Alicia Alonso in Cuba in 1960. Not altogether dissimilarly, the new State Ballet of Georgia has been made a national priority in the European-style democracy emerging in this fascinating country that now refuses to be Russia’s summer playground any longer.Ismene Brown, “Bright star of Georgia sparks a revolution” The Telegraph, 12 August 2006

The State Ballet of Georgia has made two appearances at the Pillow under Ananiashvili’s direction, in 2007 and 2010.

The State Ballet of Georgia in Trey McIntyre's Second Before The Ground, 2007 (Photo: Maxwell Citizen Kepler)
Nina Ananiashvili and Sergei Filin in Don Quixote Grand Divertissement, 2007 (Photo: Maxwell Citizen Kepler)

At the Pillow in 2010, Ananiashvili danced Frederick Ashton’s Thaïs Pas de Deux. In an interview with Pointe, Ananiashvili noted, “Many companies dance Ashton’s familiar La Fille Mal Gardée, but most people have never experienced these pas de deux.”

Thaïs Pas de Deux

Ananiashvili went on to say that Ashton’s ballets, if not ageless, are of timeless value.

We have to pass these classics on to the next generation.”

Nina Ananiashvili

“We do not destroy old buildings, which have great cultural worth, just because the newer ones are more modern. And a generation raised on classics will create masterpieces in the future.”Margaret Fuhrer, “Nina Ananiashvili Brings Ashton to the Pillow” Pointe June/July 2010.

The Dying Swan

Ananiashvili also performed the signature Michel Fokine solo The Dying Swan on the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Gala, accompanied by cellist Yehuda Hanani and pianist Ramona Pansegrau.

Nina Ananiashvili in The Dying Swan, 2010
View Archival Record

The success of the State Ballet of Georgia is in no small way related to the choice of Ananiashvili as artistic director. When writing about her 2009 farewell performance at American Ballet Theatre, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay observed, “The tender affection felt by both colleagues and audiences for the ballerina Nina Ananiashvili is extraordinary. Other ballerinas are no less admired, but she, singularly endearing, is singularly cherished.”Alastair Macaulay, “Swan Song” New York Times, June 28, 2009

Nina Ananiashvili interviewed by Nel Shelby, 2010
View Archival Record

In October 2016, London’s Telegraph named Ananiashvili as one of twelve greatest ballerinas of all time, noting her “alluring grace, enticing mystique, personal magic, instinctive expressiveness” and “technical wizardry.”“12 of the greatest ballerinas of all time.” Telegraph 04 October 2016 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/12-of-the-greatest-ballerinas-of-all-time/nina-ananiashvili-don-quixote0/ retrieved 29 November 2016

Maura Keefe is a contemporary dance historian. She is a scholar in residence at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, where she writes about, lectures on, and interviews artists from around the world.Read Bio

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