Ballet showdown: Peter Martins versus Paul Mejia

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martytexas4Metropolitan Classical Ballet guest artists Vilia Putruis and Mindaugas Bauzys in Paul Mejia’s “Cafe Victoria.” Photography by, copyright, and courtesy Marty Sohl.

Text copyright 2010, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak
Photography copyright Marty Sohl

(The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the photographer’s views. In 2011, New York City Ballet’s press office revoked the Dance Insider’s press ticket privileges, a policy it continues to maintain.)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Three ballets into the one-night only season of Metropolitan Classical Ballet July 17 at Texas Hall, I approached Paul Mejia, the company’s co-director and the author of all three dances, and posed the rhetorical question: “What I don’t understand, purely from an artistic standpoint, is what Peter Martins is doing in New York and you’re doing here.” “Well, my family’s here,” Mejia answered, but the question persists: After seeing Mejia succeed brilliantly in three different formats — a group piece and a duet to classical music, then a spicey contemporary work to Astor Piazzolla — in which New York City Ballet chief Martins has consistently failed, one has to ask: How has it come to pass that the house that Balanchine built continues to be maintained by an incompetent architect when there is clearly other Balanchine-bred talent out there that actually understands and is able to perpetuate the Balanchine aesthetic in a way that lives up to his legacy?

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The Dance Insider Illustration, 10-20: Ananiashvili Brings it Home

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Art & Text by Robin Hoffman  
Copyright 2008, 2016 Robin Hoffman

First published on the Dance Insider on March 14, 2008.

NEW  YORK — Put in context, the unevenness shown by Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia on February 29 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music pales compared to what they have achieved. Ananiashvili has only been working at the helm of the company since 2004, and she has transformed a broken institution into something presentable if not rivaling world-class just yet.

Four years is not very long to absorb some 18 new ballets (in addition to the classical repertory), unify training, develop dancers’ talents, and surmount additional challenges in a place that lacked an artistic director, public performances, and even protection from the winter blowing into the dance studios in the years prior to Ananiashvili’s arrival. So it wasn’t a big surprise, for example, that though the star herself looked at ease in Balanchine’s “Chaconne,” the work sat uncomfortably and unevenly on the rest of the large cast. There is a unique stylistic learning curve with Balanchine.

I was mentally balancing my expectations this way through the evening when suddenly the tables turned. For the final piece on the program, “Sagalobeli,” Ananiashvili had called upon her friend and former partner at the Bolshoi, Yuri Possokhov, now resident choreographer of San Francisco Ballet. There could have been no one more perfect to give the State Ballet of Georgia a signature ballet. My Dance Insider colleague Aimée Ts’ao has previously noted (see elsewhere in these DI Archives) Possokhov’s talent for bringing out “the best in dancers and show(ing) facets of them that have not been even hinted at before.” He did that and more for the State Ballet of Georgia. In the program notes, the choreographer (who hails from the Ukraine) writes, “For anyone who lived in the former Soviet Union, Georgian polyphonic songs, folk dances, theater, cinema, and art are an essential part of cultural awareness.” Possokhov can bend ballet vocabulary to suit an expression, and he gave the audience and the dancers a ballet that spoke joyfully of a connection with the land and rhythm of life in that region. It was confidently and dynamically performed; truly owned by the dancers. (The traditional Georgian Folk music was performed live on traditional instruments by the Sagalobeli Ensemble.)

Sometimes, we don’t need a company to be another Bolshoi or another New York City Ballet, we just need it to really be itself.