Category In the News

Vicki Crain, Better

December 1, 2023

Victoria Jaiani, a company artist at The Joffrey Ballet, is the quintessential ballerina. If you see her walking down the street in the Loop on a rehearsal break, you see the slim figure, long dark hair, expressive eyes and immediately know she’s a dancer — and that she’s someone special. She captures your attention and immediately draws you in. Who is that? If she can do that on a random Monday afternoon, you can imagine what happens when she’s on stage. She’s a bird, a ghost, a mermaid, a lover. She magically transforms into every role she’s given. She’s someone dancers young and old look up to, or, as the kids say these days, she’s “iconic.” 

A few accolades include winning the bronze medal at the New York International Ballet Competition, gracing the cover of Dance Magazine, being named one of Chicago’s top women in the arts by Today’s Chicago Woman and best dancer by Chicago Magazine. Critics in reviews have used bravura, brilliant, amazing and exquisite to describe her dancing. Although 20 years is a milestone many ballet dancers don’t reach, Jaiani shows no signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Things that may have sidelined another dancer — having a child or recovering from a knee injury — have only made her stronger. 

Jaiani opened her 21st season the with Joffrey in October, dancing the role of Elizabeth in Liam Scarlett’s epic Frankenstein, and she’s at the creative height of her career. “For two decades, Victoria Jaiani has brought authenticity, discipline and commitment to every performance,” said Joffrey’s The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. “She has danced the works of numerous renowned choreographers and originated countless iconic roles, forever etching her name into ballet history. Victoria’s commitment to our art form is a testament to the boundless power of her performances, which have captured our hearts for a remarkable 20 years.”

Throughout her career, she has dazzled countless audiences, inspired dancers across the globe and became a muse for more than a few choreographers. But it is her life off stage that keeps her inspired. Namely, her husband of 17 years, former Joffrey artist Temur Suluashvili and their son, Maxim. The couple met at the V. Chabukiani Ballet School in Tblisi, Georgia (Republic), and Jaiani immediately had a crush on Suluashvili. “I don’t think he noticed me for a few years,” she said in an interview at Joffrey Tower. Eventually, they started dating, but fate intervened, and Jaiani moved to New York to study at the Joffrey School on full scholarship, leaving her post-Soviet Union, war-torn home and family. “Things became tough, and it was getting dangerous. It became clear to my mom that we needed to leave,” she said. “My mom sold a few things to buy me a plane ticket. I had $100 in my pocket.” Being alone in the States and not speaking the language, Jaiani relied on frequent phone calls to friends back home, including Suluashvili. She suggested he send an audition tape to Joffrey, as she had, and he also got a scholarship. “It was a safe path. When someone gets in the door, we keep the door open.”

Once in New York, their relationship grew as well as their careers. One day Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino — affectionately known as Mr. A — asked to see a few students perform some of his choreography, Jaiani and Suluashvili among the small group. They were both offered contracts to the main company which meant a move to Chicago in 2003. “I didn’t understand the significance of it then,” Jaiani said. “I was happy I would be getting paid and could help. I could send money back home.” 

In her first season at Joffrey, she was cast as Juliet in John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, the youngest of three ballerinas to perform the role. “I would take notes and write everything down, then work with Temur after hours,” said Jaiani. “I had a lot of work to do. I could’ve either doubted myself and completely shut down or think that they see something in me, so I’d better not disappoint.” She chose the latter. Thirteen years later, she danced Juliet again in a more modern version by Krzysztof Pastor. “I was so happy to revisit that role as a grown woman. I was partnered with someone very young, so it felt like a full circle.” She has also had the privilege of dancing other roles twice: Giselle in 2007 and 2017, Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake in 2014 and 2018, and Kitri in Don Quixote in 2010 and 2022. All were opening night performances. 

Read the full article on Better here.

The Nutcracker runs now-December 27 at the Lyric Opera House. Purchase tickets here