Human Flower Project

Take a Bow


A prima ballerina flies away in a great floral rite of the theater.


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The ballet-after-the-ballet, floral curtain calls for Nina Ananiashvili, after her final performance, in Swan Lake

Photo: Gene Schiavone, for AP

Until yesterday, we’d never heard of Nina Ananiashvili – the Georgian (as in Tbilisi) ballerina who danced her farewell over the weekend. Ananiashvili performed in Swan Lake with American Ballet Theatre at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday night. At age 46, she’s being put out to pond.

Reviewer Alastair Macaulay of the Times was enthralled and wistful. In his review, we find a litany of the dancer’s gifts: “…radiance that her slender physique creates in arabesque, the wit she achieves in intricate rhythm, the thrilling effects of sharp timing and the light playfulness of her manner….”

And, we must add, a flair for improvisational floristry; Ananiashvili turned her final curtain calls into a human flower project.

The featured soloist often receives a bouquet – sometimes two or three—at the final curtain, but Saturday’s floral accolades for this ballerina were more loving and lengthy, and more imaginatively received than any we’ve ever heard of.

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Nobody bows like a prima ballerina: Ananiashvili combined floristry and dance

Photo: Erin Baiano, for the New York Times

Here you can enjoy more than 17 minutes of Ananiashvili’s curtain call (the youtube contributor entitles it “Part 1”). Immediately as she comes back into the spotlight, long stemmed blooms fly up to the stage like sparks. A gentleman enters from stage right with two armloads of roses, red and white. Ananiashvili bows deeply, then turns to share the wealth, one stem at a time, with her partner Angel Corella, conductor Ormsby Wilkins, and other principals in the cast. Macaulay reports, “She then tossed the remainder of the bouquet, with evident gratitude, to American Ballet Theater’s orchestra players.”

Our acquaintance Alex Kinney, longtime theatrical director, gave us some background on the custom of sending flowers on stage. “I’m willing to bet it originated in ballet, and migrated to opera and theater,” Alex writes, “because ballet was originally of the courts, and theater more prole (fresh flowers grown for pleasure being highly deluxe items pre-19th century).”

Customs vary across the globe. We understand that in the U.S. it’s nearly taboo to present a bouquet to a male dancer (Wreaths are acceptable), whereas abroad both male and female performers are flower-able. There are also regional differences.

“San Francisco Ballet has maintained a strict control on bouquets,” writes a contributor to this ballet discussion group – “on opening night or premiere only. At the annual Gala, it’s a huge collective bouquet, usually in an oversized basket.” Do flowers come from the promoter or the ballet company itself, or are they genuine gifts from the audience? Depends….

“For premieres and debuts, the company provides the bouquets; it’s only for farewells that other floral contributions fill the stage.” The same author reports, “There used to be someone who walked down one of the three main aisles and threw a transparent plastic-covered bouquet on stage - wonderfully atmospheric; sometimes this happened after debut performances.”

Some especially flower-drenched farewells we’ve found include Darcey Bussell’s goodbye, at the Royal Ballet in June 2007, Damian Woetzel’s and Peter Boal’s finales at New York City Ballet (clear exceptions to the ladies-only rule), and last month’s farewell to Tina LeBlanc in San Francisco.

imageNina Ananiashvili catches a white rose on the fly at her farewell performance, June 27.

Photo: Erin Baiano, NY Times

But none of these comes close to Ananiashvili’s nearly half-hour curtain call last weekend.

Her first two big bouquets were prelude to what became a floral ballet-after-the-ballet. One at a time, members of the corps criss-crossed before Ananiashvili, each dropping a long stemmed white rose at her feet. The prima ballerina acknowledged each one of them with a smile or an embrace, a bow or a lifted hand. With a small stack of blossoms at the front of the stage, many more blooms rocketed up from the audience.

“The best is to throw long-stemmed, well dethorned individual roses from the front side-boxes,” Alex advises, but for those of us without box seats? “Rushing down the aisles with arms laden is always appreciated.” Alex adds, “Where roses are concerned, I feel less than six dozen looks stingy, don’t you?”

No one at the Metropolitan Opera House could have been accused of that Saturday night!

In came Ananiashvili’s partner Angel Corella with a rowboat’s worth of pink roses, followed by another fellow with a huge bunch. Then conductor Wilkins entered from stage right with a yellow bouquet; presenting the flowers to Ananiashvili, he then conferred upon her his baton. Applause began splattering at twice the volume.

A gent in a long green cape then strode out with a bouquet of what appeared to be goldenrod for Ananiashvili, followed by a stream of women in non-tutu attire. Stage managers? Directors? Box office divas? Each brought a bouquet for the ballerina, and to each, she responded with a special display of happy “surprise” and gratitude. For one, whom Macaulay identified as Irina Kolpakova, “herself one of the supreme ballerinas of the 20th century and now a Ballet Theater coach,” Ananiashvili dropped to one knee and lowered her head in homage.

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Onto a stage filled with flowers, flower petals rained for Ananiashvili

Photo: Erin Baiano, for the New York Times

In all, seventeen bouquets are presented to Nina Ananiashvili on this 17-minute video (remember, that’s just Part 1 of curtain call). In Part 2 (just posted) Ananiashvili receives a shower of flower-petals from on high and the audience cheers for another 6:50 minutes. Ananiashvili receives a bouquet from her tiny daughter, then steps out in front of the curtain with Corella for more applause. What reflexes! She manages to catch several sprays of flowers one-handed (lots of white roses, which NYT photographer Erin Baiano magically captured in midair). Proving once more her theatrical instincts, Ananiashvila picks up one red bouquet from the stage, holding it against her chest for another deep bow.

On Saturday, flowers due from adoration to achievement mingled with flowers of elegy. This wasn’t a funeral, but it was a moment of passing. As if to exclaim that with her very body, Ananiashvili asked the evening’s two leading men for a final, splendid gesture. Marcelo Gomes tossed her into the air, to be caught by Angel Corella – a living bouquet.


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