The latest addition to the Mariinsky’s repertoire is a dramatic adaptation of ‘Anna Karenina.’
Published: April 23, 2010 (Issue # 1567)
Natasha Razina / For The St. Petersburg Times
Diana Vishneva, in the role of Anna Karenina, dances with Islom Baimuradov, in the role of her husband Alexei Karenin.
The prominent Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky premiered a new ballet loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina” at the Mariinsky Theater last week, giving center stage to psychological drama.
Ratmansky’s choreographic rendition of the celebrated 1877 literary work — which recently topped the bestseller list in the U.S. after it was endorsed by TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey — explores the drama of a sentimental yet profound woman overwhelmed by her feelings.
Composer Rodion Shchedrin originally created the score for “Anna Karenina” back in 1972 specifically for his wife, the legendary ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who choreographed the ballet herself at the Bolshoi Theater and appeared in the title role.
Since then, a number of choreographers including Boris Eifman have turned their hand to the Russian literary classic.
Ratmansky’s rendition of “Anna Karenina,” which saw its world premiere at the Danish Royal Ballet in Copenhagen in 2004 and has since been staged in Finland, Lithuania and Poland, presents the audience with a psychological account of the heroine’s passions. His ballet lacks nothing in depth, intensity and fervor. The production’s short, dynamically changing scenes emerge as painful memories in the mind.
Ratmansky’s representation of Anna’s drama is sweeping, capturing the evolution of her story in its spontaneity, and leaving no space for reflection or meditation. The ballet begins very deliberately with a static scene of Vronsky silently lamenting over Anna’s dead body laid out on a table, with a large video image of her projected onto the back of the stage, as if seen in his mind’s eye. Then the story jumps back to the beginning, with the heroine, tenderness personified, clinging ecstatically to her lover as she jumps off the train.
In this sense, it would be fair to say that the audience sees the story through the eyes of this handsome, passionate yet shallow officer, who is altogether incapable of reflection.
The otherwise minimalist sets feature a full-scale train carriage, which appears not only in the finale but also in Act One, when it revolves around itself, showing Anna on her way to see Vronsky.
Natasha Razina / For The St. Petersburg Times
Vishneva dances with Zverev.
Unfortunately, on the opening night, the train disaster happened far earlier than intended in the plot, when the carriage suddenly emitted a loud screech and stalled, ruining the stage carpeting. Much to the distress of all, both on and off-stage, the curtain came down and a lengthy interval ensued in which the surface was replaced. On the second night, all the train scenes thankfully went smoothly.
The impressive video projections created by Wedall Harrington that envelope the entire stage with views of wintry St. Petersburg, gardens in blossom and the vast library in the Karenins’ house work strongly to the show’s advantage.
For Diana Vishneva, the Mariinsky prima ballerina who danced the lead role on the opening night on April 15, the key to Tolstoy’s novel is Anna’s emotional and sensual dependence on Vronsky. The love triangle between Anna, Vronsky and Karenin became the focus of the dancer’s work. Vishneva’s tormented heroine, torn between ecstasy and despair, commits suicide to end her painful, unbearable relationship with her lover, to sever the ties she was unable to do anything about in life.
Vishneva created the image of an impulsive, idealistic and vulnerable yet amazingly mature Anna, isolated in her drama and trapped by her tragic circumstances. Emotionally fragile, she is discovering herself as much as she is experiencing a new feeling. The up-and-coming Mariinsky dancer Konstantin Zverev, dancing Vronsky in one of his first major roles, was convincing as the courteous, ardent yet superficial officer, whose lack of maturity and responsibility prove to be more than Anna can bear.
The pairings of Anna and Vronsky, and Anna and Karenin (performed by Islom Baimuradov) were emotional and elaborate, providing striking contrast to the rather stationary pantomime parts created by the main characters’ entourage. The ballet is in no way judgmental or moralistic, appearing as an almost documentary-style account of the tragic events — an impression enhanced by the large black and white photo projections.
Ratmansky’s short ballet, with a running time of less than two hours, is a drastically condensed version of Tolstoy’s epic novel. It breaks no choreographic ground and demands no technical feats from the soloists. That said, its dramatic intensity, high energy and emotional range are magically truthful to the prose — which is exactly what makes it a success.
“Anna Karenina” will be shown next on May 1 and then again during the Stars of the White Nights festival on May 24 and June 24.