A culture in motion
The Georgian State Dance Company offers a dazzling display of energy, grace and beauty.
By ROBERT HICKS
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 28, 2002
As it performs its native land's traditional and contemporary folk dances, the Georgian State Dance Company traces the history of a people.
For the Georgian State Dance Company, folk dance is far more than mere entertainment. Since 1945, the 80-member company has used dance to tell the world about the history and culture of the former Soviet republic, which is now an independent state.
The troupe will bring its traditional and contemporary folk dances that depict war rituals, wedding and courtship ceremonies, farming, medieval court life and modern ways to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday and Van Wezel Hall on Dec. 6.
At its core, the company is a family affair. Artistic director and choreographer Tengiz Sukhishvili continues the traditions of the company's founders, his late parents. Sukhishvili's wife, Inga, is both soloist and choreographer. Their daughter Mino Sukhishvili is a former dancer and now a costume designer with the company.
"All the traditional folk dances reflect the national and traditional character of the people of Georgia," said Mino Sukhishvili. "The new choreography is built on the folk art."
The Georgian State Dance Company was founded in 1945 by Iliko Sukhishvili and Nino Ramishvilli to show the folk dance traditions and rich cultural diversity of Georgia to the rest of the world.
"Folk dance is more popular than classical ballet in Georgia," she said. "All the families teach their children how to dance. Some send their children to dance studios, master classes and schools. Teenagers even dance traditional folk movements at the discotheques. They love their traditional dances. Almost everyone dances in Georgia."
Situated on the Black Sea in the Caucasus Mountains and extending to the seashore villages of the Caspian Sea, the country stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. One can discern traces of East India and Turkey in the culture of a land that is a hardy mixture of shepherds, horsemen, hunters, farmers and warriors.
Georgia's diverse population and geography are reflected in its folk dance traditions. Partsa, which will open Saturday's program, is a traditional festival dance, featuring black-clad men and elegantly attired women in flowing gowns. Simd is a wedding dance featuring men in black robes and women in white gowns. Shejibri is a competition among men and a militaristic depiction of war.
"Every part of Georgia has its own typical dances," she said. "You'll find funny and comical dances at the Black Sea shore. In the mountains, the dances show a more powerful temperament."
Dancers perform solo, in pairs and in groups. The men perform complicated rhythmic patterns, complete acrobatic aerial jumps, display swords and daggers, perform on point and do double pirouettes.
The women never openly try to attract their partners' attention in the traditional dances. Their movement is subdued and lyrical. At times, they appear to float across the stage in unison. They maintain an attitude of distance and awareness of their beauty. In the new folk dances, they are more lively, bold and energetic, reflecting their changing roles in Georgian culture.
"Georgian folk dance has transformed and evolved over the years," Mino Sukhishvili said. "Every year the choreographers change things in the traditional folk dances. The main difference between the old traditional folk dances and the new contemporary folk dances is that women's roles have become more powerful.
"Women today are more like men. They work, they have families, they have jobs. I think the changes in contemporary Georgian dance come from the changing roles for women in our culture."
PREVIEW: Georgian State Dance Company, 8 p.m. Sat. Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, $32-$40; (727) 791-7400. Also 8 p.m. Dec. 6, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, $38-$46; toll-free 1-800-826-9303.
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