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Susan Weinrebe
Performance Reviews
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg: Anna Karenina

by Susan Weinrebe
June 16, 2005
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-2110

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg: Anna Karenina

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
Anna Karenina
Ballet by Boris Eifman in two acts
Ardani Artists Management, Inc.
(Ardani Website)
The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
(Auditorium Theatre Website)

50 E. Congress Parkway
Chicago, Illinois 60605

By Leo Tolstoy

Artistic Director: Boris Eifman
Director of the Ballet: Gennady Albert
Coaches & Repetitors: Olga Kalmykova, Valentina Morozova, Tatiana Sevostianova, Natalia Sazonova, Igor Kuzmin
Company Manager: Andrei Gordeev
Administration: Olga Mikhaylovtseva, Vladimir Bondarenko, Vadim Lukianov, Viktoria Bykova, Marina Kudryavtseva,
Assistant to Artistic Director: Polina Dolotova
Financial Department: Tatiana Alexandrova, Elena Oleinik, Viktoria Melnikova, Irina Enikeeva
Production Manager: Vadim Shemarov
Lighting Designer: Yuri Timofeev
Electricians: Vladimir Vasilevski, Dmitri Russkih, Nikolai Bondarev
Sound Engineers: Leonid Eremin, Elena Kurinova, Marina Mikhailukova
Stage Manager: Alexei Donde
Carpenters: Yuri Eilseenkov, Boris Melikov, Alexei Petrov
Wardrobe: Elvira Sheina, Marina Gordeeva, Elena Niazova
Make-up Artist: Natalia Karavaeva
Masseur, Therapist: Alexander Meshcherin
Publicist: Jodi Sevin
Soloists: Anastassia Sitnikova, Alina Solonskaya, Alexander Melkaev, Alexander Ratchinsky, Sergei Zimin, Constantine Matulevsky, Oleg Markov
Corps de Ballet: Olga Astreiko, Olga Grigorieva, Diana Damchenko Sofia Elistratova, Yelena Kotik, Marianna Krivenko, Liana Madisheva, Marianna Marina, Elena Ponomareva, Olga Semyonova, Natalia Smirnova, Agata Smorodina, Oxana Tverdokhlebova, Valentina Vassileva, Evgenia Zodbaeva, Ekaterina Zhigalova, Sergei Barabanov, Sergei Volobuev, Vadim Domark, Oleg Gabyshev, Pavel Gorbachev, Dmitri Fisher, Mikhail Ivankov, Andrei Ivanov, Andrei Kasianenko, Anton Labunskas, Batyr Niazov, Ilia Osipov, Maxim Pegushin, Igor Polyakov, Constantine Serovikov, Ilia Shcherbakov
Anna: Maria Abashova
Karenin: Albert Galichanin
Vronsky: Yuri Smekalov
Kiti: Natalia Povorozniuk

Susan Weinrebe
June 16, 2005

Anna Karenina: A ballet in two acts by Boris Eifman, Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Set by Zinovy Margolin, Costumes by Slava Okunev, Lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky.

(See May 19, 2005 Eifman Interview) (See May 25, 2005 Review) (See May 28, 2005 Review) (See April 13, 2003 Review) (See May 2, 2005 Preview)

Ballet will never be the same once you have seen Boris Eifman's production of Anna Karenina. Using a blend of classic movement and modern interpretation, Eifman gives the kiss of life to an art form that is hard pressed to stage a fresh full-length performance.

Before a step is taken, however, the powerful set and lighting become presences in the story. Though dance is the medium, the audience is clearly prepared for drama of great weight and import through these visual crafts. They are, as so much else in Eifman's production, quickly changed, unpredictable, and not all they seem at first impression.

Grandly proportioned at times, the sets were never decorated more than necessary to give the suggestion of place to the audience. Spare props like a bed or a child's toy placed the focus on the dancers instead of on backdrops or furniture.

Rather than a continually lighted stage, beams were selectively focused, often with blackness elsewhere. Especially evocative was the cone of light that shone down upon Anna several times. It was the sort of light shape an oncoming train plays upon the tracks, but turned on end, pinning her like a specimen in its beam.

Rapid scenery changes whisked us from the opulence of Pre-Revolutionary ballrooms, to the somber and heavy confines of the Karenin mansion and then to the portentously ominous grime of a train station. Instead of painted scenery, chandeliers, balconies, and facades of edifices were lowered and withdrawn at a pace that evoked the frantically beating hearts of the characters in their race towards tragedy.

Built like an imperial Borzoi, Maria Abashova, as Anna, is eye riveting every moment she is on stage. Choreography that made the most of her physical attributes allowed her time and again to extend a line from fingertip to toe that seemed to stretch on forever. Voluminous skirted costumes reminiscent of Martha Graham's fluid jerseys, abetted the illusion of endless leg.

Costumes also carried their own layers of meaning. An elegant black dress Anna wears to the ball where Vronsky commits himself to her, visually and symbolically contrasted with Kiti's similar white garment. Both referenced the innocent and manipulative duality of the quintessential innocent/seductress roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake.

Following one scene in which Anna struggled to exhaustion with Karenin, she made a lightning costume change that might seem superfluous were it not for its symbolism. She had been wearing a blush colored dress, nearly devoid of color, similar to the root of a plant in its subterranean whiteness. Then, clothed in mint green for a flowing pas de deux with Vronsky, she became a tender shoot emerging into light.

Another costume change occurred on stage, but was so cleverly maneuvered it seemed like sleight of hand. During one of the more contemporary segments of choreography, Anna spirals downward in opiate induced destruction. Facing the audience, she crawls into her bottle, so to speak, by wriggling through the open shelf of a small table, which holds her drug. Only her head and shoulders are lighted, leaving complete darkness around and behind her. It wasn't until Ms. Abashova had wriggled halfway through the shelf that I became aware of a metamorphosis! She had been wearing a midnight blue gown, but then emerged in a white leotard and tights, as if the life had been sucked out of her!

Beyond the obvious color symbolism of the adulteress red dress she wore in a confrontation with Karenin, there was the additional halter collar to show how tethered she was to him. The corps, garbed in full Carnival attire, sported individually characterized masks, thus representing the haven to which Anna and Vronsky fled in Venice, but also the impenetrable wall society put up before them for their indiscretion. Karenin tears off his coat as though he is rending the garment of his life. Over and over, costume became one of the sensory conduits to the message of the plot.

In an earlier time of his life, Mr. Eifman choreographed ice shows and some of his most intriguing movements reprise those beginnings. Turns that double back on themselves as the danseur guides the ballerina under his arm with his hand to her head, slides along the floor, floor work itself, and even a spinning "death spiral" hearken back to icy arenas. I admit to loving the synthesis of dance forms and their innovative presentation.

The principal parts of Anna, Karenin, and Vronsky require performers who are not only consummate technicians, but actors as well. Each of the parts could be reduced to maudlin soap opera stereotypes, but are not. There is no bombast or bravura dancing to give the dancers substance. Instead, the genius of the choreography and Abashova, Galichanin, and Smekov's individual artistry made each of their roles as true and tragic as they needed to be.

In a recent interview, Mr. Eifman said, his company is, "…the tallest company, the tallest dancers in the world…. The most beautiful! Very talented! They're all actors!" This was no proud exaggeration. Partnering Ms. Abashova, Albert Galichanin as Karenin, and Yuri Smekalov dancing Vronsky, endowed their respective performances with viral athleticism, speed, and emotion that created real and tragic people, not merely die cut roles.

I had never had much sympathy for Karenin when I read the novel and saw many film versions of Anna Karenina. He had always seemed cold and distant. For the first time, I empathized with his anguish and was able to appreciate the character as a dimensional person.

Anna Karenina is the sort of provocative story that forces one to examine values and opinions. As a ballet, it engages our close attention and participation lest we miss a nuance. Boris Eifman does not make it easy for his audience by laying out candy box prettiness and posturing. The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg only asks of the audience what it gives them itself, and that is everything!

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