In its 70th year, the Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet remains in step with the times. George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium stage seemed barely big enough to contain the explosive energy of this troupe, whose folkloric dances are not at all the sort you can imagine doing in a community center basement.
The men land full-force on their knees and shinbones, spin to a blur on their kneecaps and stamp elegantly on their toes, knuckles bent under, less like ballerinas and more like restless stallions.
Once you swallow your shock, and you quiet the sympathetic response in your own knees and toes (it helps to see that the men wear knee pads under their trousers), these astonishing moves become exhilarating.
For most of the enthusiastic audience, in fact, the exhilaration began well before the dancers bounded onstage. A few little girls in the crowd arrived in Georgian folk dresses of pure white, like tiny brides. Several women seated around me wore floor-length traditional dresses in vibrant colors. The distinctive Georgian language rippled everywhere, along with Russian.
The dancing started at a brisk clip; there were more than a dozen short pieces, all with costume changes, which meant we saw an array of fur hats, tall boots, belted wool tunics for the men. The women often wore slim-fitting gowns and veiled crowns, like medieval queens.
Sukhishvili, for all its acrobatics and occasional swordfighting, possesses a refined esthetic, from the live musicians onstage with drums, flutes, guitar and accordion, to the poise of the dancers, with their lifted, dignified bearing. The high jumps and whirling turns were exciting, but the quieter moments were most compelling, especially for the women. In “Samaia,” three noblewomen in jeweled gowns and headdresses seemed barely to move; instead you could believe they floated just above the stage as they quietly skimmed it with slow, measured steps. Several other dances featured this airy hovering quality. It was especially striking in “Simdi,” a restrained wedding dance for two lines of dancers that divided and subdivided in perfect symmetry. Math met mystery, and you simply surrendered to its austere beauty.