Eifman’s Anna Karenina Harks Back to Choreography Soviet Style

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Anna Karenina: Saint Petersburg Eifman Ballet, London Coliseum, London, 19.04.2014 (J.O’D)

Eifman Ballet in 'Anna Karenina'  photo by Hana Kudryashova
Eifman Ballet in ‘Anna Karenina’ photo by Hana Kudryashova


Anna:  Natalia Povoroznyuk
Karenin: Oleg Markov
Vronsky: Oleg Gabyshev
Aigerim Beketyaya, Dmitry Fisher, Denis Klimuk, Yulia Manjeles, Oleg Markov, Natalia Povoroznyuk, Angela Prokhorova, Sergey Volubuev

Director: Boris Eifman
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Vyacheslav Okunev
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky


On its fourth and final day at the London Coliseum, the St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet gave two performances of Anna Karenina, a two-act ballet based on Tolstoy’s novel which choreographer Boris Eifman created in 2005. Like Rodin, the work from seven years later that the company also brought to the Coliseum last week, it focuses on three characters: Anna, Karenin (her husband), and Vronsky (her lover). Like Rodin, too, it achieves power by the end through sheer kinetic force. During it, though, the ‘new ballet’ choreography is too much on one note: waving arms, kicking legs, ugly lifts and jetés by groups of male dancers that hark back to Russian choreography under the Soviet regime.  Natalia Povoroznyuk, Oleg Markov and Oleg Gabyshev engage the sympathy of the audience as they stretch, arch and writhe to convey love and suffering. But there are not enough moments of climax or stillness. The music, Tchaikovsky at full blast (though not his music for ballet), ends up being all on one note, too. Strings, woodwind, percussion and brass come to sound identical in the over-amplified recording. The feeling is not so much of listening to the music as of being hit over the head by it.

Everything looks rather bare, with costumes that are half leotard (for the upper body), half period dress. When it isn’t bare, the stage is transformed, at times, into an extravaganza of flashing blue light, dry ice and frenetic movement (to part of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, for example) that would be kitsch if the intent behind it was not serious. There are effective moments. The first comes at the end of the Act One, when Anna walks away from a photographic pose with her husband and son. Spot-lit on the other side of the stage, she stands in the circle formed by the track of the child’s model railway. At the start of the ballet, the train had carried the boy’s other toys. Now there is only the engine. Anna looks at it, going around her feet, as the curtain falls. Like Camille Claudel at the end of Rodin she senses her fate.

The masked ball ‘production number’ in Act Two (similar to the can-can in Rodin) provides colourful costumes while at the same time commenting on the artificial life that Anna and Vronsky (for whom she has left her husband) now lead. Another ball shows them locked out from the rigidly structured society to which they once belonged. The ballet then forsakes realism altogether as, in a flesh-coloured bodysuit, the delirious, self-tortured Anna is swung in circles (Eifman is good at circles) by two groups of similarly dressed dancers. The train, between the carriages of which she finally throws herself, is represented by dancers in black leather jackets and caps like those that Russian soldiers wear (also black). They move their arms and legs implacably. After she flings herself into their midst, Anna’s body is wheeled forward on a railway porter’s trolley. The dancers who were the train take off their caps. The ballet, by which it is also possible to feel hit over the head, ends.

John O’Dwyer

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