The work of George Birkadze: Where ballet meets martial arts

Rome Jorge

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

The work of George Birkadze: Where ballet meets martial arts
Karate kicks and strikes, Jiu-Jitsu grapples and locks, the grace and elegance of ballet – choreographer and martial artist George Birkadze brings all this to his dances

It takes a tough guy to be a danseur in tights and ballet shoes. George Birkadze, the third generation in a family of actors, soon found out the hard way, growing up in the Georgian capital city of Tblisi.

“I started dancing when I was around 13 or 14. Since it was difficult to be in my neighborhood and do ballet and dance, it was absolutely complicated and I understood that I had to defend myself. First this was from movies, it wasn’t something very serious. But when I grew up a little bit, the bullies got a little bit more violent. So that hobby became a professional part of my life. I became a professional fighter and I would say it helped me a lot also with my dancing,” he says.

His life has steeled, tempered, and honed this man like a weapon. He served a mandatory two-year stint in the Soviet military where he was assigned to the Special Forces Division. He earned a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in Kyokushinkai Karate and in Russian Sambo (Samozashchita Bez Oruzhiya or “self-defense without weapons”), as well as winning several medals in mixed martial arts fights.

Photo from Facebook

These include titles of 1998 Moscow Kick-Boxing Champion, Russian Army Full-Contact Kyoku Shin Kai Champion 1997, and a Mixed Martial Arts professional record of four wins and one loss. He is currently an instructor at Combat Sports Boston.

But it was as a ballet dancer that Birkadze came to Manila to choreograph his two neo-classical works Farandole and R/J in Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Gala, to be seen onstage September 26 and 27 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The Blue Moon Gala is the second of 3 programs of the Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Series that celebrates the company’s 45th anniversary, dubbed the Sapphire Season.

Farandole is a highly athletic group dance with a latin flair set to George Bizet’s opera Carmen.  Birkadze’s latin-inspired choreography reflects both Carmen‘s narrative about gypsies as well as  Birkadze’s stint in Spain where he served as principal dancer in the Young Ballet of Catalonia, dancer and choreographer for the Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon, and performed for the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona. 

R/J is a reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet that distills Shakespeare’s immortal romantic tragedy into a potent seven minute pas de deux. At rehearsals recently previewed by the press, R/J proved to be a vigorous and impassioned dance that demanded the utmost from Ballet Philippines principal ballerinas and danseurs. 

It was a choreography one expected of a Bolshoi alumnus, danced with vigor and precision exacted by a warrior. 




“The dance is much more difficult than the fight. The injuries are much more dangerous and emotionally it’s completely devastating.” 



Warrior dance

Birkadze’s dance reflects his martial arts. “All the fighters are dancers. All the dancers are fighters,” he proclaims. “There are so many connections: Coordination. Flexibility. Ability. Balance. Muscle memory. It’s just coordinated dance. There isn’t any warrior who couldn’t dance. There is no one. All of them in the world dances before the fight, right? American Indians, bush dance in Africa, my country, Georgians we dance,” he notes. 

He does admit to big differences between the two. He attests, “The dance is much more difficult than the fight. The injuries are much more dangerous and emotionally it’s completely devastating.”

Don’t expect to see something so obvious and crude as kicks, punches, grapples in his dance choreography. But he concedes that the fighter in him still shows in his work. “I definitely challenge dancers to their maximum, I’m putting them at the top of their possibility. I really like that so they feel challenged every time. So it’s not just nice piece but it’s very challenging for them, so maybe that was the pattern of martial arts in my choreography,” he confides.

Listen to George talk about teaching here: 

He notes that, though his choreography for R/J was originally premiere for the Sarasota Ballet in the United States, he has tailored it to take advantage of Ballet Philippines unique strengths. 

His highly impassioned and emotive choreography also reflects the many challenges he had to surmount in his life. Besides the threat of bullying he had to deal with in his childhood, Birkadze experienced ostracism in Russia, a feeling that became intolerable when that country invaded his native Georgia in 2008 and briefly occupied it.

It is with much heartache that he recalls, “When I came to Moscow the Soviet Union had just crashed, [Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991] so it was the first where I felt I was different, we’re not part of the country anymore. It was very sad. From there it just made me work harder because, even in school, they didn’t believe me.”

He adds, “This country is a little strange for us, and were not that different from them. That’s why I migrated to Spain. Spain was my home more than Russia, which was very sad, because I think they’re the closest family to me, culture and everything.”

Birkadze first worked in Spain in 1999. Today,  Birkadze resides in Boston, Massachusetts where he practices both is ballet and his martial arts. 

Karate kicks and strikes from Japan, Jiu-Jitsu grapples and locks from Brazil, ballet from France and Russia, latin verve from Spain, and soon the strength and virtuosity of Philippine dancers – George Birkadze brings all this to his dances. 

You’ll be able to see this watch Ballet Philippines Farandole and R/Jat the  Cultural Center of the Philippines on September 26 and 27. These are performances that pack a punch. 

For details, visit Ballet Philippines‘ Facebook. For tickets, visit Ticketworld

Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, Rome Jorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, mass demonstrations as well as Reproductive Health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!