Friday, July 15, 2011

A tragic night at the ballet...the Mariinsky's Anna Karenina (June 14th)

So...with low expectations (based on other reviews) I went to see the Mariinsky's Anna Karenina last night at Lincoln Center. I didn't love Tolstoy's book, and I liked this ballet even less.  
Kondaurova in Anna K (from

On the positive, I adored Mariinsky first soloist Yekaterina Kondaurova (in the title role).  I found this tall, flame-haired ballerina captivating, and although sturdy, energetic and graceful in her steps.  Interestingly, from the neck down she kept reminding me of Veronika Part as Manon in ABT's Lady of the Camillias, but Kondaurova seemed to have just the tiniest bit of added quickness that might be what is lacking in my enjoyment of said other tall Vaganova-trained dancer.

As with Part in The Nutcracker, On the Dnieper or The Bright Stream, Kondaurova in Anna K. was well-suited to Ratmansky's choreography of angles and sharp arabesques.  Her long-armed port de bras were particularly beautiful (even though stronger and sharper than the more willowy style of Julie Kent or Stella Abrera towards which I usually gravitate).

Now, although I liked her dancing, her acting didn't move me - but I believe that's not at all her fault.  I blame the dismal performances by most of the Mariinsky men and the terrible pacing and music of this production.  Kondaurova didn't have much to play off of here.  I kept trying to imagine her dancing with Marcelo Gomes and it worked much better, at least in my head.

As for these men, including Andrei Yermakov, the tall, gangly dancer who played Vronsky, I found them awkward and in some cases almost anorexic looking (though I liked the dancer who played Levin). Most of them made ABT's taller thin dancers like Hallberg, Hammoudi and Tamm look extremely buff, macho and mature by comparison.  While their technique is of course beautiful, there was no weight to their movements, no power behind the steps, and many of their arms seemed to be too delicate and running wild, separate from the control of their bodies.  The story of why on earth Anna would run away to be with this man was completely and utterly lost as a result.  Also, I found many of them to be telegraphing their moves and so the finish of each preceding move looked messy and rushed.

I'd like to say more about the choreography of this ballet, but there was so little dancing that it's difficult to comment.  There were a few very-Ratmansky sections where a bunch of men (maybe 8 or 10?) in officer's uniforms danced some uniform, jumpy choreography which reminded me of On the Dnieper.  The one element that sticks out in my mind is one of the two pas de trois between Anna, Vronsky and Karenin that involved some interesting assisted "drags" for a lack of a better word and showed the tension off well.  The pas de deux between Anna and Vronsky in Act II might have been emotional and powerful, and Kondaurova did everything she possibly could on her end, but her partner was so lacking that I was left simply feeling bad for her that she was robbed of a great moment.

The set is interesting - a white sculptural curved backdrop which is changed by superimposing the scenes by video.  The only real tangible scenery was a desk, some opera boxes and a train that moves around the stage (too slowly). In one of the train scenes large snowflakes (by video) fall on the backdrop - very similar to Ratmansky's large snow in The Nutcracker - I think snow is a very important memory for him growing up in Russia.  The screen is also used to show the movement of the train coming to run her down, which I found to be effective.

As I said above, the pacing of this ballet is dreadful.  It's not helped by the uninspired atonal score, but it's more than that.  The ballet abridges WAY too much of this book.  Anna and Vronsky's life together is cut down to one visit to Italy.  Some of the most interesting parts of the book are interactions between Kitty and Levin - who only had brief but well danced appearances here.  I'd have preferred to cut out 30 minutes of SLOW pantomime and add some second lead scenes for them (think Merry Widow?).  The delightful little blonde ballerina who played Kitty (I'm pretty sure it was Svetlana Ivanova - I seem to have misplaced my program) reminded me a little of ABT's Sarah Lane, but with longer arms.  Her extension and control in grand battement on pointe were impressive. 

I will say that what they saved on set expenses was more than made up for by the beautiful costumes. The period gowns were really lovely (and no McKenzie/Disney-esque colors in sight).  However, they were much too long for a ballet with so little ballet in it and hid all but the women's feet.  If only they had shortened them to the length in Lady of Camillias, the women would have seemed so much freer and I would have been able to at least see some of the choreography.  (One thing I did love -the variety of hats in the races scene reminded me of the Ascot races in My Fair Lady.)

But overall, there is more walking about and less dancing in this ballet than in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet.  And more pantomime than in ABT's Coppelia. So in a ballet that seemed to be only about 75 minutes long, that didn't leave room for much else. The action in Act I was so slow that I may have actually dozed off for a minute or two before intermission.  (Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure the intermission was longer than Act I, which itself started almost twenty minutes late). There is an odd corps scene at the opera near the end of Act II where the corps actually gets to do a little dancing, but it comes on suddenly and doesn't fit at all in the ballet - I'm certain it was thrown in solely to allow Anna time to run off stage and change into her tragic red dress.

So, the Mariinsky's Anna Karenina succeded in being a Russian tragedy.  But the tragedy of this performance was sadly not Anna's demise but a production gone very, very wrong.

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