Eifman Ballet: Anna Karenina review

Visiting Russian company Eifman Ballet present a highly theatrical hybrid of modern and classical dance in this unique and entertaining production.

Tolstoy’s all-time classic novel Anna Karenina has been the source of many a movie adaption, not to mention opera and musical theatre. Dance seems a natural and even obvious choice to express the passion and scandal of the dramatic love triangle set in late 1800s Moscow and beyond.

Stripping away the subplots of the novel, choreographer Boris Eifman has focused entirely on the three lead characters, with support from a large corps de ballet. Storytelling is brisk and clear, featuring extensive full scale ensemble work along with a range of intricate and fiery pas de deux.

A brief prologue sees Anna with her young son Sergey; his toy train set an ominous piece of foreshadowing of the tragic end of the story. Married to Alexey, an elder statesman, Anna meets and falls passionately in love with handsome young cavalry officer Vronsky.

Many grand balls and parties of Russian society form the backdrop for much of the action, with Anna later shunned at such occasions for leaving her husband and child. Her dependence on morphine prompts a hallucinogenic sequence in act two in which the company appear as a writhing mass of bodies in near-nude sheer body stockings. The all-male opening of act two is another ensemble highlight, as is the tight, disciplined work in the train sequence leading to the dramatic conclusion.

Maria Abashova is a wonder to behold as Anna. On stage for the majority of the performance, Abashova completely gives herself over to the passion and intensity of the role. In a highly unusual move, given ballerinas’ propensity for tight hair buns, Abashova allows her thick curly hair to flow loosely and wildly for the drug trip scenes, an addition that greatly enhances the situation.

Oleg Markov, Alexey, and Oleg Gabyshev, Kronsky, are both strong, masculine partners for Abashova, each complementing the expressive physicality of their dance with focused and commanding acting performances.

Sets are relatively simple, but effective, in suggesting the grandeur of the locations. The delicate fall of snow is a lovely effect, all the more for the way it is lit so beautifully. The sheer number of costumes is quite amazing. Corps dancers change multiple times, from billowing steely grey gowns to elaborate costume ball outfits to tight, black industrial apparel and several others.

If there is a drawback in the overall presentation, it is in the somewhat unusual combination of styles/genres. The music, a collection of pieces by Tchaikovsky, is classical but the dance is quite modern. It is not, however, an extreme modern dance piece of the style often by Australian dance companies who specialize in such work. The show has the structure and spirit of a full length traditional ballet, and yet there is not a tutu in sight. It could be argued that there is a degree of excitement in this genre-busting work but overall it seemed that the work should have gone one way or the other in terms of which style was fully embraced.

It also becomes clear how spoilt we are with the wonderful Orchestra Victoria accompanying ballet at the State Theatre as the use of pre-recorded music cannot help but create a bit of disconnect between the performance and the audience.

This is certainly a more innovative program than the creaky classics trotted out by other touring companies. Lovers of dance will certainly find plenty to enjoy.

Photos: Cynthia Sciberras

This review published on Theatre People 30 August 2012.

Categories: Dance, Reviews

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