Aug 192011

 The fifth offer­ing from the divided the crit­ics. Most had reserves over ’s storytelling, but even ’s received a ham­mer­ing on its first outing.

The gen­eral con­sensus seemed to be inter­est­ing but not great, with some won­der­ful interpretations.

The Tele­graph thought that Rat­mansky had set him­self an impossible task,

Nobody could accuse the cho­reo­grapher Alexei Rat­mansky of lack­ing ambi­tion. Not only does he decide to make Tolstoy’s gar­gan­tuan into a bal­let – he does so while opt­ing to wear a straitjacket.

Both arms are firmly tied behind his back by his chosen score, one writ­ten in 1972 by Rodion Shchedrin for a bal­let of the same name. It surges along, full of gen­er­al­ised mel­an­choly, and vaguely mod­ern­ist dis­cords, firmly under­lin­ing each moment of emo­tion. Its fever­ish insist­ence doesn’t leave Rat­mansky enough space to tell even the very boiled down ver­sion of Tol­stoy, which he has shaped, jet­tis­on­ing the social rich­ness of the novel and every sub-plot in order to con­cen­trate on Anna’s tra­gic story.

 The Guard­ian (and oth­ers) thought along sim­ilar lines,

To reduce Anna Karen­ina to a two-act bal­let is a tough call, and Alexei Ratmansky’s ver­sion (seen in the UK for the first time this week) is an intel­lec­tual and visual feat of com­pres­sion. How­ever, to dis­til the emo­tional power of Tolstoy’s novel into 90 minutes of stage time is a much more elu­sive task.

But as The Observer poin­ted out,

All that is neces­sary is for the audi­ence to make its peace with what bal­let can­not do and allow it to do what it does best. The novel is about love as a bur­den. The bal­let explores weight­less­ness. The novel is full of inward­ness – still­ness. The bal­let is incess­antly rest­less. But we are soon con­vinced by this dazzling corps and its prin­cipals that heavy hearts can be expressed by light feet – grief is gossamer.

No one doubted Ratmansky’s abilities,

Rat­mansky is incap­able of pro­du­cing dull cho­reo­graphy, and the move­ments he fash­ions for Anna, where she twists and turns, her body pulling one way while her arms extend the other, is a per­fect reflec­tion of her tor­men­ted state.

said The Tele­graph; and The Inde­pend­ent noted,

Under the pres­sure of record­ing events, Ratmansky’s dances are astute rather than truly pen­et­rat­ing. There is rarely the impres­sion, which occurs so often in the book, of char­ac­ter being laid bare at a stroke. Only Islom Baimuradov’s Karenin – a hand-wringing phar­isee of judg­ment and self-deception – and as Anna become fully three dimen­sional. Vishneva’s Anna, if any­thing, is more com­pel­ling than Tolstoy’s; a trans­figured, sen­sual saint who finds only mor­ti­fic­a­tion where she expec­ted ecstasy, and in the end con­vinces her­self that there is no difference.

Bet­ter than Tol­stoy eh? The Tele­graph wasn’t so sure,

Diana Vish­neva, who cre­ated the title role in 2010, is a beau­ti­ful woman but Tolstoy’s heroine is a love-magnet for any­thing that moves – men, women, chil­dren, anim­als, trains – and Vish­neva never quite makes us believe in her fatal attraction.

The Arts Desk agreed,

There are some fine per­form­ances. Vishneva’s air of tra­gic grandeur fits well into this role, although, while as a dan­cer she has the mag­netic allure Tol­stoy gave Anna, dra­mat­ic­ally one senses there is still more to come. Smekalov’s Vron­sky dances strongly, with a lovely clean line. But it is Baimuradov as the betrayed Karenin who man­ages to achieve most dra­mat­ic­ally, cre­at­ing out of very little Tolstoy’s dry but bereft man, a man of pathetic, heroic restraint.

But The Observer was won over,

It is Diana Vishneva’s exquis­ite per­form­ance as Anna that holds every­one in thrall. Dan­cing with Karenin, she is com­pli­ant yet agit­ated. With Vron­sky, in the spring, she is calmly expans­ive – a happy inter­lude. Watch­ing her dance, the sense is that her body can do any­thing – except set her free. It is extraordin­ar­ily mov­ing. In the novel, Anna dreams she is har­mo­ni­ously mar­ried to Vron­sky and Karenin, and, on wak­ing, recog­nises this as a night­mare. Rat­mansky stages a tre­mend­ous dance between Vron­sky, Karenin and Anna, and we watch the eternal tri­angle become tem­por­ary. Anna is the prize – lif­ted on high – but also a sac­ri­fice, and Vish­neva dances as if she knows she must say good­bye to both men.

At the end no one was thor­oughly con­vinced by the even­ing. The Fin­an­cial Times concludes,

Des­pite the great gifts of the entire cast; des­pite swift and rever­ber­ant incid­ents and the sheer skill of the ensemble, I was un-moved by the tragedy. I admired the assur­ance of the cent­ral per­form­ances, and loved Yev­genia Obrazt­sova as Kitty (and the illus­tri­ous Lyubov Kun­akova as her mother) , but this was, I thought as the bal­let ended, a nar­rat­ive told by ghosts. And the grand artistry of Vish­neva, Smekalov and their col­leagues could not flesh it into life.

Photo: Yuri Smekalov and Diana Vish­neva in Anna Karen­ina © Mar­ilyn Kingwill

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