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Late last year, Nikolai Tsiskaridze started writing a column for a Georgian news website. If I’m honest, Nikolai isn’t much of a writer, but he gets full points for the effort and for trying to reconnect with his culture and home country.
In early December, Nikolai wrote a short article about Vakhtang Chabukiani – his least popular piece so far. This is surprising, given the significant role Chabukiani played in the ballet history and Georgian culture. Well, damn the public and their disregard for Nikolai’s literary efforts! Personally, I found the article endearing and decided to translate it.
“Vakhtang Chabukiani was a unique artist, who had made a great contribution to the development of ballet in the twentieth century. He was one of the first ballet virtuosos who brough about the innovations which are considered the norm today. The heroic style of dance – a trend that would eventually, especially in the early twentieth century, gain great popularity – began with him. Many danseurs followed in his footsteps. Aside from his impeccable performance skills, Vakhtand Chabukiani also possessed a great talent for choreography. He staged a number of high-profile productions.
I knew Vakhtang Mikhailovich when I was little. Our paths often crossed. Vakhtang Mikhailovich himself expressed a desire to work with me. We rehearsed together when I was in the third grade: I danced the pas de trois in his version of “The Nutcracker”. I remember him changing some of the movements specifically to suit me. I even have some photographs with him – a keepsake I’m very proud of.
Before the war, Vakhtang Chabukiani had danced in St Petersburg. His return to Georgia had, naturally, transformed and enriched the life at the Tbilisi State Ballet School. Chabukiani had been heading the school for many years when he was, unfortunately, removed from his post for various reasons**. I was in the first grade when Chabukiani, aged eighty, returned to teaching. The school was given his name only after his death.
Chabukiani was a very kind man. He loved animals. Whenever the kids were feeling lazy and wanted to derail a class, they would bring some kind of animal to the school. Vakhtang Mikhailovich was especially partial to cats and dogs, and would be overjoyed at the sight of a little kitten or puppy. In the meantime, all work would stall.
I remember Vakhtang Mikhailovich telling me that he would work with me when I grew up, but I left Tbilisi for Moscow when I was thirteen. When we met, years later, I got a feeling that my departure hurt him.”
*As Nikolai delicately put it in a 2013 interview: “Back then you couldn’t have a personal life which was ‘different’ from everyone else’s. He was set up and removed in a very ugly manner.”