Vakhtang Mikheilis dze Chabukiani (Georgian: ვახტანგ ჭაბუკიანი) (February 27, 1910 – April 6, 1992) was a Georgian ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher highly regarded in his native country as well as abroad. He is considered to be one of the most influential male ballet dancers in history, and is noted for creating the majority of the choreography of the male variations which comprise the classical ballet repertory. This includes such famous ballets as Le Corsaire and La Bayadère.
He is also noted for his and Vladimir Ponomaryov's 1941 revival of the ballet La Bayadère for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, which is still retained in the company's repertory (often referred to as the "Soviet version"). This version of the ballet has served as the basis for nearly every production staged outside of Russia, including Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova's versions.
Life and early career
Born in Tbilisi to a Georgian father and a Latvian mother, Chabukiani graduated from the local Maria Perini Ballet Studio in 1924. He continued his studies at the Leningrad Choreographic School between 1926 and 1929. He debuted at the Kirov State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Leningrad in 1929, and toured with the first Soviet ballets in Italy and the United States in the 1930s. Vaghtang quickly established himself as a skillful artist, remaining a leading soloist with the Kirov Theatre. In 1920, the dancer and choreographer Mikhail Mordkin took over as director and continued focusing on the classical Russian repertoire staging such works as Swan Lake.
It was not until Vakhtang Chabukiani came along, however, in the 1930s that classical ballet become truly Georgian in character. Heroism and romanticism were characteristics of Chabukiani's style both as dancer and choreographer. This said, he also regularly challenged the refined delicacy of ballet and gave male dancers an active leading role in the work. Ultimately, he combined classic ballet with Georgian folk-dance traditions to create a form of dance that is uniquely Georgian.
On 16 May 1930 Chabukiani performed as Siegfried in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Galina Ulanova, one of the legendary performers in the role of Odette, wrote :"Such a partner as Konstantin Sergeyev provides my dancing interpretation with more lyricism, while, on the other hand - Chabukiani adds more temperament". His performance of Ludwig Minkus's Don Quixote on 16 November 1930 led to his being known and loved not only in Leningrad, but also around the whole USSR. When one of the greatest Russian tenor Leonid Sobinov first saw him, he exclaimed: "This is a miracle of nature". The Soviet press wrote:
Chabukiani was born with dance in his blood and probably returned some of his back to the dance... His courageous appearance, explosive temperament, power and frankly virtuosic dancing, symbolizing the heroic origin, was expected by the Soviet ballet. The dancer did not fade into the background of partners [but] as if caus[ing an] all-comers competition, reveled in freedom, soar[ed] in flights-jumps, [rose] in mad, seeming infinite rotations...
In her book Soviet Ballet 1945 the famous English writer and journalist Iris Morley wrote:
...[In] trying to describe this unusual and magnificent dancer, [I] experienced the same difficulty, as when trying to describe a tornado. He takes possession of the whole scene, betrayed wonderful fury, sometimes dying down so that stunned the audience can see the body, as if was hewn by Rodin, you see the eagle which fell on the rocks of the Caucasus ... He is both a great classical dancer, the heir to all the traditions of Leningrad, and the embodiment of the rich folklore of his native Georgia...
Before his American tour, Chabukiani and his partner Tatyana Vecheslova gave concerts in Latvia and Estonia, where they performed pas de deux from Flames of Paris, Le corsaire and Don Quixote. In 1938 the Kirov State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet performed Chabukiani's own ballet The Heart of the Mountains, to music by Andria Balanchivadze (brother of Balanchine). In 1939, Chabukiani composed the ballet Laurencia based on the play Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega and music by Alexander Krein. In this performance, Chabukiani attempted to combine the principles choreodramy and virtuosic classical dance.
Taras Bulba (ballet)
In 1939 fascist Germany attacked Poland. The Soviet Union supported Germany and took part in annexation of Poland. The countries of Europe and the USA refused to help Poland. World War II began.
Taras Bulba has two sons, Ostap and Andriy. Andriy fell in love with the Polish girl and decided to rescue her. Taras Bulba counted the son as the traitor and killed him. Taras Bulba and his son Ostap were positive characters, and Andrey was the negative character.
The premiere of the ballet took place on December 12, 1940 — Leningrad, Opera and ballet theater; Vakhtang Chabukiani played Andriy's role. He so well played a role that his negative character began to be perceived by the positive. Communistic heads accused the dancer of incorrectly played role. The ballet accepted political aspect. Vakhtang Chabukiani was expelled from the well-known Leningrad theater and transferred to Tbilisi.
Back to Tbilisi
In 1941 Chabukiani returned to Georgia and served as the chief dancer and choreographer at the Tbilisi Theatre of Opera and Ballet until 1973 when he headed the Tbilisi Choreographic School. He played a major role in developing ballet in Georgia and in the training of a new generation of dancers. Among Chabukiani's pupil-students were such a great ballet dancers as : Nino(Nina) Ananiashvili, Irma Nioradze, Nikolay Tsiskaridze and Igor Zelenski, also David Makhateli, Elene Glurdjidze, Lali Kandelaki, Zakharia Amonashvili etc. "My principles remain unchanged" - wrote V.Chabukiani - "Georgian Classic Ballet must be established on the national basis, folklore elements must be organically confluent with the classic ones, but the proportions must be carefully distributed and strictly defined...".
In his film-documentary The Wizard of Dance - Vakhtang Chabukiani, the famous Georgian and Soviet Honored Artist Kote Makharadze, recolls about the Tbilisi premiere of the ballet The Heart of the Mountains : "Georgian folk dance of the warriors "Khorumi" from the third act, enriched by unexpected passages, chords and cascades of ballet steps, had been ending with a fiery dance "Mtiuluri (Mountain Dance)" performing by Chabukiani in a duet with the outstanding folk dancer, founder of National Ballet, Iliko Sukhishvili. And when the two great masters, having different plastics, crossed their arms on the stage of art, used to become the real firework of dance ... Just that dance became the first stone of building in excitable Georgian National Ballet .."
Chabukiani also worked on several films and staged ballets throughout the world : Glory of the Kirov 1940, Stars of the Russian Ballet 1953, Masters of the Georgian Ballet 1955 and The Moor of Venice - Othello 1960.
In 1958 in Moscow, on the occasion of Georgian Art Decade, he performed triumphal premiere of his The Moor of Venice - Othello, composed by Aleksandr Machavariani, where the leading roles were performed by the stars of Georgian Ballet Vahgtang Chabukiani, Vera Tsignadze and Zurab Kikaleishvili. The famous Simon (Soliko) Virsaladze made stage design. He awarded with Lenin Prize( the second in ballet after Galina Ulanova 1957). Maya Plisetskaya wrote: "The Moor personalized by Vakhtang Chabukiani is incomparable. His Othello represents the simplicity, plainness, wisdom and child naivety. This is a glory of people who created this unforgettable masterpiece". The Kirov premiere of Othello was noted by the press as truly "Chaliapin's performance". Howard Thompson, in a New York Times review of a 1960 film version of Mr. Chabukiani's Othello, described it as "Shakespeare with electricity". In 1961 Chabukiani choreographed Maurice Ravel's Boléro, in 1967 new ballet Sunrise/განთიადი on F.Glonti's music, in 1980 one-act ballet Apasionata on music of Beethoven
Throughout his career, Chabukiani received numerous awards and titles, including Honored Artist of the Russian SFSR (1939), Honored Artist of the Georgian SSR (1943), People's Artist of the USSR (1950), USSR State Prize (1941, 1948, 1951) and Lenin Prize (1958). 
Film The Moor of Venice - Othello 1960
Director and Choreographer : Vakhtang Chabukiani
Stage designer : Simon (Soliko) Virsaladze
Composer: Aleksandr Machavariani
Conductor: Odysseas Dimitriadis
Orchestra: Tbilisi Zahkaria Paliashvili Opera State Orchestra
Film Producer : Tbilisi Cinema Studio
Vakhtang Chabukiani invited Mikhail Dudko on the role of Brabantio - it was a brave and honest act under the Soviet regime.
- Today, La Bayadère is presented primarily in one of two different versions—those productions derived from Vakhtang Chabukiani and Vladimir Ponomaryov's 1941 revival for the Kirov Ballet, and those productions derived from Natalia Makarova's 1980 version for American Ballet Theatre; which is itself derived from Chabukiani and Ponomarev's version.
- Grand pas d'action
- For Chabukiani variation in the Grand pas d'action Legat chose a Variation added by Minkus to Petipa's 1874 revival of the Taglioni/Offenbach Le Papillon. In 1941 Vakhtang Chabukiani re-choreographed this variation for himself, which is still performed today by all male dancers who perform the role of Solor in La Bayadère.
- Pas d'esclave
- Today the variation is performed with choreography created by Vakhtang Chabukiani in 1931.
- The Le corsaire pas de deux
- It was the noted Premier danseur of the Kirov Ballet Vakhtang Chabukiani who had the most influential hand in refashioning the male dancing of the Le corsaire pas de deux. During his performances in the pas during the 1930s he gave the male role more athletic and virtuoso choreographic elements. His interpretation of the male role became, in essence, the standard, and it has remained so to the present day.
- By the time the Kirov Ballet's Premier danseur Vakhtang Chabukiani danced the role in the 1930s, the character wore a costume which consisted of baggy pants and chains strapped around a shirt-less torso. When Pyotr Gusev staged his revival of Le corsaire for the Maly Theatre in 1955, the Rhab character was named Ali, and was given a more prevalent part in the ballet's action. This change in the character from a mere suitor to a slave also gave rise to revisions in the choreography of the Le corsaire pas de deux, with many of the dancers who performed in the role adding in more athletic and exotic elements of choreography.
- In 1936 another revival of Le corsaire was given by the Kirov Ballet, with Natalia Dudinskaya as Medora, Mikhail Mikhailov as Conrad, and Vakhtang Chabukiani as the Slave (or Rhab, as the character was known in Russia). This was the first production of the full-length work to include Vaganova's 1931 revision of the Le corsaire pas de deux as staged for Dudinskaya's graduation performance.
- Grand Pas d'action
- Prince Siegfried's famous variation has been historically credited to the great Danseur of the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet Vakhtang Chabukiani, who it has been said was the first to dance the solo in the 1930s at the Kirov, though most likely he had learned the variation from Gorsky. Today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet's score for Swan Lake has this variation titled with a rubric that says Variation of Chabukiani, and this same solo is used by nearly every company when they perform The Black Swan Pas de Deux, though there are often differences in the music regarding orchestration from production to production (for example, the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet's version of this music is orchestrated for solo oboe at the start, whereas in the west it is usually the full violin section that plays throughout).
- Agrippina Vaganova for the Kirov Ballet in 3 acts. Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad, 3 April 1935. Revived especially for the Ballerina Tatiana Vecheslova. Vaganova added a "new" Pas d'action for the Ballerina Galina Ulanova and the Danseur Vakhtang Chabukiani, which she arranged from the Pas de Diane from Petipa's 1868 ballet Tsar Kandavl (a.k.a. Le Roi Candaule) to music by Pugni and Drigo, which is known today as the Diane and Actéon Pas de Deux.
- The La Esmeralda Pas de deux
- When the danseur of the Kirov Ballet Vakhtang Chabukiani performed in the La Esmeralda Pas de deux in the 1930s, he added music from Pugni's original score as a variation for himself. Today the variation is retained in the piece and remains popular with danseurs.
Excerpts from articles
New York Times Jan. 13, 1934 - "Took New York by Storm in MOST SENSATIONAL SUCCESS of the SEASON!"
- Cultural relations with the U.S.S.R where resumed last night when Vecheslova and Chabukiani from Marinsky Theatre, Leningrad, made their American debut at the most hilarious events which has graced the dance platform in many a season. Chabukiani is a swarthy young giant with dashing manner and a facility for doing unbelievable technical tricks. His leaps, his turns, his lifts are phenomenal. Vecheslova seconds him along the same lines.
- The political influence of Soviet dancing is nothing to be alarmed about. It's freedom and disarming spirit are extremely potent. The audience simply adored it and bravoed throughout the evening with sincerity. The performance is fittingly to be described as a riot!
- Julian Seaman
- Starting success! By sheer youth and electric vitality, Vecheslova and Chabukiani won the immediate and vociferous approval of a crowded house. Both have been trained in traditions of the Imperial Ballet; both have had wide experience in their own and other lands; both are artists of very first rank. One rarely sees such perfect co-ordination and control of the human body. There was something so graceful and intense in their movements that I cheered with the rest. I know of no better way to restore one's faith in the ballet of old than to see this youth maiden from Soviet realm.
- Henriette Weber
- A large audience gathered at Carnegie Hall and gave them rousing applause. They deserved it. Both are skilled dancers, thoroughly trained technicians. Chabukiani makes a stunning appearance and has magnetism that projects itself out to the audience. Vecheslova is likewise exceedingly well trained and expert.
- Henry Beckett
- Vecheslova and Chabukiani can leap higher and whirl faster than perhaps any dancers alive, and last night their agility and gusto vastly delighted the public at Carnegie Hall, Judging by the enthusiasm, this event was undoubtedly a box-office success. It is zestful and brilliant.
Greatest Ovation Given any Dance Attraction SINCE AMERICAN DEBUT of LA ARGENTINA
- Tour Direction: METROPOLITAN MUSICAL BUREAU, Inc.
- Division of Columbia Concerts Corporation of Columbia Broadcasting System
- 113 West 57th Street, New York, N. Y.
- By Arrangement with ED PERKINS
- The world encyclopedia of contemporary theatre, Volume 1- by Don Rubin
- "Vakhtang Chabukiani, 82, dies; Soviet Ballet Master and Dancer", New York Times, JENNIFER DUNNING, April 16, 1992
- Вахтанг Чабукиани By Вера Красовская 1960
- Репортаж без микрофона By Константин Иванович Махарадзе
- MacCauley, Martin (1997), Who's Who in Russia Since 1900, p. 59. Routledge, ISBN 0-415-13898-1.
- Mikaberidze, Alexander (ed., 2007). Chabukiani, Vakhtang. Dictionary of Georgian National Biography. Accessed on September 6, 2007.
- Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre - History of the Theater
- 'Othello' on IMDb
- Video Links
- La Bayadère Vakhtang Chabukiani and Natalia Dudinskaya
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- Laurencia from StateBalletofGeorgia
- Musical variations on Vakhtang Chabukiani's dancing scenes