Last night the curtain at The Royal Opera House went up on Kenneth MacMillan’s Anastasia, with Natalia Osipova in the title role.
One of MacMillan’s first creative acts on becoming Director of The Royal Ballet was to adapt Anastasia into a three-act, full-length work, his first for the Company since Romeo and Juliet. He had created a one-act version for Deutsche Oper Ballet in 1967.
MacMillan was inspired by the true story of Anna Anderson, a woman who believed herself to be Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and the only survivor from the assassination of the Romanovs in 1918. Leaving the audience to decide the legitimacy of Anna’s claims, MacMillan created a haunting, expressionist work to Martinů’s Sixth Symphony, in which Anna is visited by confused nightmares of her life from the time of the massacre to her discovery in Berlin in 1920. The ballet won widespread acclaim on its premiere, particularly for the central performance of Lynn Seymour as Anna. As MacMillan said in 1971,
I found in [Anna’s] story a theme that has sometimes appeared in my work before: the Outsider figure. Anastasia seems to me to be a supreme example of this.
The story of Anna Anderson gripped the public in the 1960s and 70s, with many people believing – or wanting to believe – her extraordinary claim. DNA evidence has since proved that she cannot have been the Grand Duchess. But MacMillan’s ambiguous depiction of her remains a fascinating portrayal of a tortured figure and a startling exploration of memory and identity.
For The Royal Ballet he created two preceding acts to the Berlin act, using music by Tchaikovsky to explore Anna’s ‘memory’ of events in the Imperial family leading up to the Russian Revolution – providing a powerful context for the disturbed Anna’s nightmares of the final act. The full ballet, first performed in 1971, was a declaration of intent: it showcased MacMillan’s dual influences, of classical, Royal Ballet tradition in the first two acts, and of German expressionism – a style then entirely new to British audiences – in the final. The ballet remains one of MacMillan’s most experimental and poignant works.
Anastasia runs 26 October–12 November 2016 at The Royal Opera House, London.
The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 2 November 2016. Find your nearest cinema.
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.