Choreography, Mime Give Joy to Her World

Article excerpt

Irina Tsikurishvili has the expressive, flexible face and body of her artistic hero, Charlie Chaplin. Just like the silent film maestro, she also can tell a story without uttering a single word.

"I call it physical acting. It's telling a story by movement," says Mrs. Tsikurishvili, resident choreographer at the Stanislavsky Theater Studio. The theater company, housed in a brick building in Northwest, mixes mime, drama and dance.

Mrs. Tsikurishvili, who often acts in the productions she choreographs, has the graceful movements and the facial contrasts - the dark hair and eyes, red lips and pale skin- that are perfect for a mime.

Last year, the 29-year-old won a Helen Hayes Award for outstanding choreography in the production of Feodor Dostoevski's "The Idiot." The previous year, she received a nomination in this local competition.

Mrs. Tsikurishvili has been nominated again this year in the same category for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust." The awards will be announced Monday night.

"That's three nominations within [just a few years]. That's pretty amazing," says Karen James Cody, a publicist for the Helen Hayes Awards.

Mrs. Tsikurishvili says life has been unbelievably good to her in the past few years. "It's very miraculous . . . I'm so happy because I am doing exactly what I want to do," she says, her lips giving way to her infectious smile. "I run to the theater in the morning. The theater is my home."

But her life hasn't always been this full of artistic bliss.

Five years ago, Mrs. Tsikurishvili lived in her hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union, trying to make ends meet and never knowing whether her electricity or water might be cut off.

She was a trained classical ballet dancer, a mime and an actor. But with the civil unrest after the fall of the Soviet Union, few residents had the time or money for artistic endeavors.

Mrs. Tsikurishvili and her husband, Paata Tsikurishvili, met at a mime theater in Tbilisi in 1989, when she was 18. They married a few months later and had a son, Vato Tsikurishvili, in 1991.

While she took care of their son, Mr. Tsikurishvili spent several years in the early 1990s making a living and a name for himself with a pantomime ensemble in Germany, Mrs. Tsikurishvili says.

"The theater in Tbilisi was pretty much dead," she says. "And I was in hell."

Meanwhile, her father, Arnold Kvetenadze, a former gymnastics coach in the Soviet Union, had moved to the United States to coach American gymnasts. The move planted a seed in his daughter's mind.

"I always dreamed of going to America," she says. "My father would bring jeans and sneakers from America when I was growing up. I always wanted to go."

She went, with her son, knowing her father could help her once she arrived in Baltimore.

"It was harder for Paata to make the move. He had much more to lose. He was famous in Germany, and he would have to start over in America," she says. "I had nothing to lose."

But Paata joined her a few months later. Their artistic efforts didn't take off for a few years. …