By Steve Sucato
No one would have blamed Nikoloz Makhateli if he had said no a third time to Michigan Ballet Academy (MBA) board president David Bellamy’s offer to take over the artistic leadership of the academy. Makhateli was a principal dancer with the National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi in Georgia and a master ballet teacher for the national ballet schools of Nicaragua and Senegal, his own Makhateli Ballet in Colorado, and the Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington, DC. He had retired from teaching to live in his native Georgia after a decades-long career of training ballet students worldwide, several of which went on to professional dance careers including Makhateli’s own children, David, a former principal dancer with England’s Royal Ballet and Maia, a principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet.
But Makhateli says the political tensions in Georgia over Russia along with his positive experience in visiting Grand Rapids to teach master classes convinced him to take finally accept the post 2014.
“It’s a beautiful place, quiet—and the students love ballet,” says Makhateli.
Two of MBA students now benefitting from Makhateli’s un-retirement and teaching expertise are 16-year-olds Corinne Jarvis and Breanna Proseus. Both dancers competed in and took top honors in the Toronto semifinal of the World Ballet Art Competition – Grand Prix this past October. In the classical category of the international competition for 14 to 16-year-olds, Proseus placed first for her performances of a variation from George Balanchine’s ballet Walpurgisnacht (1975) and the “Kitri” variation from the ballet Don Quixote (1869). Jarvis was awarded second place in the same category for her interpretations of the “Pas D’Esclave” from Le Corsaire (1858) and a solo from the ballet Raymonda (1898). She also placed third in her age group in the contemporary category for her performance of Makhateli’s contemporary ballet solo Song for Viola (2014), with music by folk-pop Americana singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams.
Both dancers came to the dance academy, housed in Cascade, a suburb of Grand Rapids, in 2011 from the Grand Rapids Ballet School, following former Grand Rapids Ballet principal dancers and MBA founders Akop and Gaiane Akopian. MBA’s mission according to their website is to “deliver the highest quality ballet training in an atmosphere of creativity, challenge, encouragement, and integrity.” Under Makhateli’s mentorship as well as the tutelage of other MBA faculty members including former Cleveland San Jose Ballet standout Joanne Jaglowski and Grand Rapids Ballet star Yuka Oba, Jarvis feels MBA is living up to that mission.
“I wanted to train more seriously and have more performance opportunities,” says Jarvis of her move to MBA.
But Jarvis’ current push for ballet excellence began as a push against her family’s calling. Both of her parents were professional ballet dancers in Mexico and the U.S., and her brother Victor is a dancer with the new Cleveland Ballet. She was put in ballet classes at an early age.
“I absolutely hated it. I would throw tantrums when I had to go to class,” she confesses. Jarvis says she quit for a time but went back to it and really fell in love with the art form after performing in Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” production.
This article also appears on the cultured.GR website, where you can find this article and more conversations about the arts in Grand Rapids.