Nothing in the State Ballet of Georgia is as rare as its artistic director. And if that sounds like an indictment of Nina Ananiashvili's stewardship of her native company during four years in charge, it also recognises that talent like hers flowers only once a generation – although fortunately it seems to be spanning several.
My first reaction to her appearance in Giselle at the Edinburgh Festival was disbelief: the young girl bounding from a peasant cottage and pulling up in shock at the sight of a good-looking boy couldn't possibly be a 45-year-old ex-Bolshoi ballerina giving her 200th-plus performance of the role. But she is still the freshest and most nubile of heroines, with spring-lamb hops and skips that suddenly evolve into long, luxurious extensions, as if her body is yawning in the act of waking up.
The same combination of lightness and velvety depth in her movements makes her a fluent wraith, compelling even when she has to coax one more dance out of a jock-like Albrecht – in Vasil Akhmeteli – who occasionally looks like he's just waiting for the final whistle so he can go off and flick towels in the locker room.
It's understandable if a Georgian's thoughts are not completely on the stage right now, but the lack of attention was disastrously obvious in the company's mixed-bill opener, Balanchine's Chaconne. The dancers, led by Akhmeteli and Anna Muradeli, looked as if they had never met before, a rudimentary interpretation of the steps failing to prevent a succession of glaring slips and fumbles. Lasha Khozashvili and Nino Gogua came closer to the clinically lyrical Balanchine style in Duo Concertant, but overall the company looked happier in two ballets – created especially for them this February – where attitude counts for more than accuracy.
Alexei Ratmansky's Bizet Variations is a partner-swapping ballroom piece for three couples, but only two objects of desire. There is little sense of the inherent danger in that dynamic, but, with Ananiashvili making her only appearance in the programme, everyone sweeps and swoons picturesquely. Yuri Possokhov's Sagalobeli mixes classicism with Georgian folk dance and music to evoke an authentic sense of community, where men dancing in circles outflank each other, Zorba-style; and women shimmy or sashay to attract them. You could feel the dancers' happiness at finally being allowed to think of home.