‘Nina-isms’ highlight Cleveland Ballet’s Masterclass with Legendary Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili 

By Steve Sucato

The week before Nina Ananiashvili’s State Ballet of Georgia’s U.S. tour began, the former Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Houston Ballet star came to Cleveland to fulfill a promise she made to friend Gladisa Guadalupe to teach a masterclass for her Cleveland Ballet.

Ananiashvili and Guadalupe became fast friends after meeting as jurors at the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition in 2019. The global pandemic then postponed a planned masterclass in Cleveland until this past Saturday, April 8, 2023.

The 2-hour and 15-minute ballet class, the longest Ananiashvili says she has taught in the West, took place at Cleveland Ballet’s Bedford Heights studios on Cleveland’s Southside. A facility the steadily expanding company is already starting to outgrow.

Chock-full of expert information and plenty of personality from the affable Ananiashvili, Cleveland Ballet’s dancers soaked in all she had to offer.

“I really enjoyed teaching Cleveland Ballet’s dancers,” says Ananiashvili. “Everyone was very focused. I am always pleased when young dancers want to learn and fix this or that to improve their dancing. When I see how much they want to learn, it makes me want to give them more and more.”

Nina Ananiashvili. Photo by Khatuna Khutsishvili.

Accompanied by area pianist Y. Turin, Ananiashvili, after asking the class for permission to touch them, moved about the studio, making adjustments to the dancers’ posture, body positioning, ballet steps, and stances. Personal attention was given to many of the 35 + dancers taking the class.

Making the experience all the more interesting were several light-hearted “Nina-isms” that Ananiashvili injected into her teaching. Some came in the form of challenges to the dancers including during a demonstration of a properly angled position of a foot and ankle in an outstretched leg. She dared the dancers to risk placing their expensive cell phones atop their outstretched ankles and not have them fall to the ground to demonstrate their confidence in their execution of their foot and ankle placement. Another saw Ananiashvili locate an empty cup in the studio, place it on the piano, and then challenge the dancers to bet on themselves in the execution of a turning phrase across the floor. If they failed to execute the movement phrase, they would need to drop a dollar into the cup. “You can pay for me to go out to dinner,” joked Ananiashvili.

Perhaps the most reacted to of the “Nina-isms” was Ananiashvili referencing ballet’s fictitious 7th and 8th positions of the feet.

“When I mention those, I am really talking about discovering all around the world what I jokingly call Nina’s positions, 7th & 8th,” says Ananiashvili. “Because dancing is such hard work, I like to make the atmosphere in the studio less serious. Correction is normal in teaching ballet, but I try sometimes to make the dancers smile when correcting them such as saying they have their feet in 7th or 8th position.”

Having had an illustrious career as a prima ballerina performing with, and guesting with, many of the world’s greatest dance companies as well as now directing her home country’s State Ballet of Georgia, one might think teaching could be a less fulfilling endeavor for Ananiashvili. On the contrary, the 60-year-old Ananiashvili sees sharing her career’s worth of knowledge with young dancers as a means of giving back to the art form she loves.

“I want to keep ballet in good shape,” says Ananiashvili. “Keep it alive and interesting.”

Ananiashvili’s State Ballet of Georgia U.S. tour kicks off at George Mason Center For The Arts Concert Hall in Fairfax, VA on April 15 with subsequent stops, April 16 at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in Bronx, NY, April 22 at Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in New Orleans, LA, and April 29 & 30 at the Detroit Opera House in Detroit, Michigan.

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