Choreographer Boris Eifman is well known for his dark, psychological portrayals. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina provides him with more than enough material to satisfy these tendencies. Indeed, Eifman and his St Petersburg-based ballet succeed in catapulting this 19th Century masterpiece well into the 21st Century as a modern, and rather exuberant, dance drama.
Eifman’s choreography slices through much of the original novel, removing all reference to the romantic sub-plot between Kitty and Levin and focusing fully on Anna and Vronsky’s tempestuous and destructive love affair. This gross simplification does make the production feel a little light and removes any nuance from the characters’ personalities. Notably, Karenin (Oleg Markov) loses any hint of the magnanimous, dignified husband and simply becomes an overpowering bully.
This production employs tremendous amounts of emotion, generally ranging from anguish to extreme anguish, portrayed by the dancers with some fairly melodramatic acting, including agonised writhing and swooning. Minimal attention is paid to the set and music but we like some of the rather slinky costumes.
Act II finds its feet with a build up of tempo, including easily the most impressive scene of the show: an extravagant Venetian masked ball showcasing some spectacular costumes and beautiful choreography. We also see a passionate pas de deux by Nina Zmievets (Anna) and Oleg Gabyshev (Vronsky) and are impressed with the atmospheric build up to the suicide scene itself.
The dancing is very good throughout, with some beautiful movement including some fairly spectacular, gymnastic-like lifts and throws. What this production lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in the enthusiasm and passion of the cast.
Any purists in the audience might well contemplate following Anna underneath the nearest train; however, if you do make the journey, you can't help but be entertained. We are also looking forward to seeing what the Eifman Ballet make of Onegin (6-7 April at the London Coliseum).
Last show is today (Wed 4 April) at 7.30pm. Tickets: 0871 911 0200 or from the ENO website.
By Rachel Phillips. Photo by V. Baranovsky