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Georgia is a country with a diverse history of culture and folklore dating back thousands of years. The eclectic traditions of those who settled in Georgia over the years - including Armenians, Jews, Kurds, and Azerbaijanas - are brought together in the dances of the Georgian State Dance Company, which begins its five date tour in Israel on Thursday.
Created in 1945, the company is a true dynasty, spanning three generations. It is generally known as The Sukhishvilis, named after its founder, the famous ballet master Iliko Sukhishvilli.
Iliko was born in 1907 and initially worked as a dance teacher at the Tbilsi State Opera. Over the years he developed his own style and a desire to set up a national dance company in order to show the rest of the world what he saw as a fascinating combination of traditional Georgian folk dance and more modern methods.
Together with his wife Nino Ramishvilli, Iliko formed in 1945 what was first known as the Georgian National Ballet. From 1948 it began touring abroad and has never looked back, having performed some 15,000 shows in more than 80 countries across five continents.
After Iliko died in 1985, his son Tengez took up the mantle alongside his wife Inga Tevzadze. As they have also begun to move towards retirement the company is now run by their children Iliko junior, the company's chief choreographer and his sister Nino who acts as the general manager.
The company has shown no signs of slowing down. This will be the Sukhishvillis third visit to Israel, and they will be bringing 48 dancers as well as 12 members of their own orchestra.
The two-hour shows are a cacophony of colour and movement, described by the creators as being "directed towards an inner wholeness", constantly changing to fuse the Georgian traditions with modern influences.
Speaking from the Georgian capital of Tbilsi ahead of her arrival in Israel, Nino Sukhishvilli tells The Jerusalem Post: "Folk dance needs to be refined like poetry. The choreographer has to take from the classical folk dance roots and mix it with the feelings of the modern day. After watching our show, people who know nothing about our country will be able to imagine what kind of country and what kind of people we are."
The performances will include such classic dances as the "Partsa" which features dozens of male dancers standing on each other's shoulders, the "Kazbeguri", a traditional dance of Georgian shepherds, and the "Adjuruli", a dance from the Black Sea region showing the romance of two lovers.
Among the modern dances, the "Uchkhresti", which features small wooden percussion instruments, and the "Zekari", named after a mountain pass, stand out.
The 40-year-old Nino says her entire company are excited to come to Israel again, having performed her previously in 1990 and 2000. They have recently returned from a sold out tour of Italy they have spent the last few months honing the program especially for the Israeli shows.
Nino says she and her dancers are not concerned about the security situation. She says: "I don't think we are worried. When we came in 1990 during the war, so it was a potentially more dangerous period. But we had no problems. I don't think it's dangerous now. These days the whole world is going through a difficult time. We are excited because it's a fascinating country with a lot of interesting places which we hope we will have time to visit."
With both her parents and grandparents legends of eastern European folk dance, Nino grew up in the atmosphere of Georgian dance. Now her parents are close to retirement she and her brother have had to take the reigns.
"It is sometimes quite difficult to feel such a responsibility, but at the same time we are proud of this because we are the third generation and this company has now been going for more than than 50 years," Nino says. "It is a hard job to retain the interest all around the world, but from the beginning the style of our company was to renew and make new dances. We believe you have to continue and to create new choreography, although all this is based on folk. Because of this, each year we try to do something to keep the younger generations interested."
Looking back on her childhood, she adds: "I think it's always hard to be the children of famous parents, especially when you feel that you are under the shadow of such great parents and grandparents. But my brother and I grew up in this company and when we were young we decided to show we could carry it on.
"I think dynasty is always great, but it is important to add your own style. I studied in the Academy of Fine Art in Tbilsi and work as a costume designer, and my brother works in classic choreography. I think it's all good for our company. Now we manage this dance company with all our knowledge and history helps the organization."
Sukhishvilli will be performing on February 1, 2, 3, and 4 at the Tel Aviv Cultural Center (Heichal Hatarbut); Februay 5 at Binyanei Hauma, Jerusalem; and February 6 at the Haifa Congress Center (Mercaz Hacongressim).
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