with a skipping rope. Women in long rehearsal skirts and designer knitwear stand chatting in the wings. Suddenly. Tengiz claps his hands and they glide across the stage like passengers on an invisible airport conveyor belt.

The iron discipline of the company is immediately noticeable even as dancers go through routine blocking exercise. Precision is vital. not only in the nerve~racking sword fights

Village gossips

where sparks fly every time the blades clash. but also in delicate courtship dances where the man must not touch his prey. or even let his coat brush against her gown. And no one can afford to hang about on average there are ten costume changes per show.

Such tricky maneouvres demand gruelling training and like most big companies the Georgian State Dancers have their own school. ‘We take 40 kids a year aged 1 l or 1.3. Getting in is tough and after six years only the best make it into the company" says 'l’engiz. ‘A sense of rhythm is the first thing 1 look for‘ adds Nina. ‘And . . . ‘she smiles helplessly. ‘it does help if they‘re good-looking.’ After twenty years dancers are entitled to a pension but many like 'l‘engiz. 4-1. who retired two years ago. go into teaching or choreography. lie misses dancing but jokingly consoles himself with the thought that in three decades time he will be eligible for the [)olgozhiteli (literally the long-lifers or long-living Company based in the neighbouring republic of Abhaziz ). In this bizarre group ofsprightly geriatrics the youngest dancer is aged 7() and the oldest is 123.

Iron discipline

High life expectancy in the mountainous regions bordering the Black Sea goes hand in hand with one of the highest standards of living in the USSR. Moscovites. tired of paying up to 13 roubles ( £13) for a kilo of squashy tomatoes or queueing their way through to jars of pickled cabbage. envy the Georgians’ cheap abundant supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables. Despite Lemonade Joe‘s (Gorbachov) campaign. Georgians don‘t have to queue for their home produced wine and coffee is strong. unlike the chicory broth served up north.

The Mediterranean atmosphere infects the people Georgian men are notorious flirts and incurable show-offs. Men in the company dancing on point. on the tips oftheir toes like classical ballerinas. are no exception. Watching them whiz/.7. round the stage on their knees. leap high into the air. land and spin into yet another position. suggests that break-dancing was really invented behind the Iron Curtain.

Top: dancers in action.

Middle: elaborate costumes based on traditional wear.

Bottom: Iliko. 14 year old grandson olNina Ramishvili. takes flight.

In contrast the women in dazzling floor-length dresses and billowing sleeves drift slowly like proud graceful swans. They look very dignified and their arm movements are exquisite but the men seem to get all the fun. Nina insists that the ladies must act as a foil to male bravura but admits that she used to like dancing the man’s part and enjoyed the audience's reaction at the curtain call. ‘In those days when I took my hat off my hair tumbled down to my waist they were stunned.‘ She adds that although Georgian women are ‘terribly proud‘ and tradition puts' them on pedestals one new dance based on a pair of village gossips rivals the men's comic routines.

The company is always on the lookout for new material. ‘We go to villages for weddings or special holidays to watch the dancing. I note the steps. sometimes a dance is created from a single gesture which inspired me‘ says 'l‘engiz. 'l'he Samaya. a dance performed by three girls to celebrate a wedding feast was inspired by a fresco in the cathedral of Mtskheta. the old Georgian capital.


Dancing and ancient folk-lore aside. the company has another passion -- shopping. Tour manager Trevor Mitchell. who was in charge ofthe Bolshoi visit last summer. confesses nervously: ‘l’m not sure what to do. They've already filled a twenty-foot trailer floor to ceiling with shopping. I'm going to have to ask for another lorry.‘

He says that every member of the 71-strong company has already bought a TV and video recorder ‘those are the bare essentials' he explains. Considering that Soviet colour televisions have a nasty habit of blowing tip and causing fatal fires while native videos are expensive and unreliable. this is hardly surprising. But Victoria Charlton. of the Entertainment Corporation which promotes the company over here. was unnerved on a previous tour by a desperate phone call from the DIY store Home Base:

‘We‘ve got some wallpaper for you.‘

‘()h fine. bringit up. . .'

‘1 don't know about that. Madame we've got a whole van load outside‘.

On one tour to Scotland a few dancers went missing from a picnic but were later discovered happily browsing in a video shop.

Mr Mitchell does his best to show the Georgians something of our British heritage but after a trip to Madame Tussauds. they politely declined any further sightseeing. ‘They were interested in visiting Alton Towers‘ he says ‘but we had to cancel when we found Mrs Thatcher was going on the same day. After all. it wouldn‘t be fair of us to come and up-stage her'.

The Georgian Sltllt’ Dance ( 'ompany area! (he L's/it'r Ila/l. [film/nag}: on THUS 3311016 and a! (lie Tht’tlll‘t’ Royal. Glasgow on .34 Al .35 Jane. .S't'r' Dance listings/or details and I‘(‘l'f(’ll'.

8The List 12—25Jun