A Feature on Irma Nioradze of the Mariinsky/Kirov Ballet

by Emma Pegler

London, 5 May 2003 -- It was Irma Nioradze’s idea to bring together her colleagues from the Mariinsky/Kirov ballet to perform as the “Ballet Stars of St. Petersburg” at the Royal Albert Hall. Normally we see the stars – Nioradze, Igor Zelensky, Yulia Makhalina, Ilya Kuznetsov, Nikolai Tiskaridze, Faroukh Ruzimatov, etc. performing together as the Kirov (the touring name for the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Ballet. Indeed, the Kirov has just completed a week at The Lowry in Salford and is returning to the Royal Opera House, courtesy of the Hochausers, over the summer. It is good news that the Mariisnky is now permitting its company members to branch out on their own. Ms Nioradze will not be drawn on the subject but there have been tales of plans for non-Kirov galas thwarted in the past by a company bent on quality control.

There should be no concerns about quality control with the line-up for the Royal Albert Hall. It has been a great feat for Ms Nioradze to co-ordinate the schedules of her colleagues but, as one of the longest-standing ballerinas of the Mariinsky (she became a principal in 1992) she commands respect amongst her colleagues to the extent that they have done their best to be in London for the two galas she has masterminded. She has plans for further galas, thinking it important to bring the stars of the revered company to Europe as often as possible and certainly beyond the fixed tours of the Kirov.

Ms Nioradze is probably not known outside of Russia to the same extent as some of the dancers she has invited to join her at the Royal Albert Hall. She hasn’t danced outside of Russia in the same way as, say, Igor Zelensky and Nikolai Tsiskaridze. She hasn’t appeared as a guest with other companies and she has found the repertoire at the Mariinsky sufficiently diverse to sustain a domestically focused career. The result of this is that she is adored within Russia. The first time I went to St. Petersburg I saw the audience go wild for her Kitri in Don Quixote. This is one of her favourite roles because she feels Kitri could be Georgian – the same strength of expression we associate with Spain, Nioradze associates with her native Georgia. (You haven’t seen audiences truly enjoy themselves until you have seen an audience in Russia supporting one of its stars.)

Whilst Irma has been completely faithful to the company and stayed within the fold, she has been quite revolutionary in being a mother and having a baby on the job. Iliko, her son, is the apple of her eye and she can’t wait for him to grow up a little so that he can appreciate his mother’s art. The Royal Ballet is beginning to count mothers amongst its ranks, Darcey Bussell being the most famous of the working mothers, but it is fairly unusual, still, for a ballerina to return to dance after giving birth.

This makes Nioradze so perfect a protagonist for ‘Madame Lionelli.’ Simonov (famous for his new production of ‘The Nutcracker’ for the Mariinsky) has choreographed a new work on Nioradze about a woman of the 21st century - business woman by day and devoted wife and mother by night. It is the first work to be choreographed on the ballerina and it is a dream come true. She danced his “About a Woman” (music by Morricone) at the St. Petersburg New Year Gala at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in January and although that was not made specifically for her, she liked Simonov's language. The idea of ‘Madame Lionelli’ was developed equally between them and evolved over time. Nioradze can identify perfectly with Madame Lionelli: during the day she is totally focused and concentrated on her work, but when she goes home she is a different woman and forgets her assertiveness and concentration – she softens and slips into the role of a mother completely devoted to her son. It will be interesting to see how this piece is received by UK audiences who are used to seeing the classic works from the Kirov. “Madame Lionelli” was well received in St. Petersburg earlier this year and represents an important development in Nioradze’s career.

CriticalDance.com wishes Ms Nioradze and her colleagues “Good Luck” with this venture.

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