A beautiful classical ballet in the form of a masterpiece of modern cinema. That may be the most accurate description of the Joffrey Ballet’s world premiere of “Anna Karenina” that opened Wednesday night at the Theater Auditorium. The work comes on the heels of recent Joffrey wins as a new, Chicago-inspired “Nutcracker,” and a stunning take on a Scandinavian-bred “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And this interpretation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic 1877 novel of life in Imperial Russia is yet another example of the Joffrey’s unique ability to turn dance into multi-dimensional cinema. .
The main artists behind this ballet – a collaboration with the Australian Ballet, to perform the work in 2020, and the first commission using support from the Joffrey’s Rudolf Nureyev Fund – clearly have roots deep into the matter, and it is true. appears from time to time. Dancer Yuri Possokhov is a former Bolshoi Ballet dancer; Ilya Demutsky, the 35-year-old composer whose first number in the history of the Joffrey commissioned, will make his home in St. Petersburg, Russia. And dramaturg Valeriy Pecheykin, who designed a very short scene from Tolstoy’s 800-page novel, is performing at the Moscow Gogol-Center Theater.
But there is a hypnotic set design by the British Tom Pye of screens and train stations given a riveting look by Finn Ross’ stunning projections and David Finn’s lighting, all evocative of black-and-white film , but brilliantly animated by Pye’s period costumes in fascinating Technicolor. And of course, there’s the list of dancers, and the amazing performance of music director and conductor Scott Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, which will hit the great lyrical themes of Demutsky and the sound of trumpets, timpani and church bells.
However, contrary to the public opinion of Russian royalty, “Anna Karenina” is more than a visual feast as it spins the story of five people, in a way a mixture of innocence and knowledge, caught in the throes of love. marriage, adultery and adultery.
It starts at a train station in St. Petersburg, while Anna (the beautiful, innately charming Victoria Jaiani, who was clearly born to play this role and easily gave movie stars Greta Garbo and Vivian Leigh a run for their money) the eye of a handsome cavalry officer and womanizer, Count Vronsky (Alberto Velazquez’s naïve, gullible character, who is also a very good friend).
Anna is married to Count Alexey Karenin (the ever-commanding Fabrice Calmels, who is terrific in other scenes), an elderly and aristocratic man with a young son, Seyoza (Oliver Reeve Libke). But her immediate attraction to Vronsky, though extremely dangerous, was undeniable.
Now, at a party in a beautiful Moscow mansion, Princess Kitty Shcherbatsky (Anais Bueno in a beautiful dance turn that captures the joy and pain of the first pain), is pursued by someone young family friend, the shy but friendly Konstantin Levin. Arai, in a superb, richly expressive manner, and the ideal of his character) the owner of the land at home with a farming life, who intends to marry him. But the wide-eyed young princess prefers Vronsky, who dances with her, delights her innocent heart, and then, when Anna enters the room, turns to his eyes. Later, at a beautiful ball, Anna and Vronsky are clearly in love. It wasn’t long before Anna ran away to be with her lover even though, at the end of the first act, she had some strong feelings of danger.
The second half of the ballet begins with Anna in a state of delirium, torn between visions of her lover and the reality of her husband, who is the doctor who gave her the morphine injection. Later, the two lovers have a passionate and erotic moment in Italy, but Vronsky is guilt-ridden and abandons Anna. Unfortunately, she returns home because her husband has pushed her away from contact with her son. The end is near. But now, Kitty knows that Konstantin is the man with whom she can enjoy a life of true love and happiness. And he celebrates his future with a kind of Chekhovian peace.
All around, Possokhov’s choreography and cinematographer-like direction – alternately fervent, erotic, muscular and romantic, filled spectacular lifts, and infused with bits of modern floor work – seamlessly interwoven with the music, and driven by the inner life of the characters.
Nicole Ciapponi is fiery and deceptively playful as Betsy Tverskaya. Edson Barbosa dances beautifully as the Watchtower, a symbol of death. And in some moments of the ballet, Lindsay Metzger, a Ryan Opera Center mezzo-soprano, sang beautiful musical arrangements in Russian.
All in all, it’s a budget-friendly ballet, but with the excitement and urgency of a live performance.
“Anna Karenina” runs through Feb. 24 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 Ida B. Wells Boulevard. For tickets ($35-$199) call (312) 386-8905 or visit www.joffrey.org. The journey time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one stop.
NOTES: The Joffrey will perform “Anna Karenina” at Minneapolis’ Northrop Hall (March 2 and 3), then close his time at the Auditorium with “Across the Pond” (April 24-May 5) , showing the work of three. modern English poets. And, it has already announced its 2019-2020 season which includes: The Chicago premiere of “Jane Eyre,” choreographed by Cathy Marston (Oct. 16-27); Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Nutcracker” (Nov. 30-Dec. 29); “The Times are Racing” (Feb. 12-23, 2020), a co-production by New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck, Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili, Christopher Wheeldon, and Chicago’s Stephanie Martinez; and a revival of Possokhov’s “Don Quixote” (April 22-May 3, 2020).
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