The fifth offering from the Mariinsky divided the critics. Most had reserves over Alexei Ratmansky's storytelling, but even Kenneth MacMillan's Manon 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 Anna Karenina 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 Diana Vishneva 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
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.