Review: Anna Karenina by the Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 6:18pm

Anna Karenina

Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg

HK Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

Reviewed: October 19

The Eifman Ballet made a triumphant return to Hong Kong in one of choreographer/artistic director Boris Eifman's most successful ballets, Anna Karenina.

Packed with athletic choreography, striking theatrical effects and superb dancing, it makes for gripping entertainment.

Eifman has sensibly jettisoned the sub-plots and philosophical aspects of Tolstoy's novel to focus on the central story of the doomed affair between Anna Karenina and cavalry officer Vronsky.

However, the plot is so tightly telescoped (into two acts of 45 minutes each) that it feels rushed and the ballet fails to convey the complexity and emotional depth of Tolstoy's characters.

As always, the choreographer makes huge demands on the technique and stamina of his dancers. Anna's pas de deux with her husband Karenin and Vronsky are filled with spectacular acrobatics and the ensembles for the corps de ballet are equally difficult.

The final scene of Anna's suicide, which uses the corps to evoke the fatal train, is brilliantly done. Other outstanding moments include the scene where Anna and Vronsky echo the same moves as they express their longing for each other and the drinking sequence in the barracks.

On the downside, subtlety has never been Eifman's forte. The choreography is too busy - every time Anna goes near her husband or her lover they promptly embark on a series of death-defying lifts, which - however thrilling - tell us more about the dancers' physical prowess than the characters' emotional development.

There is a lack of contrast. Moments of stillness are needed to punctuate the relentless pace. The sequence where Anna, in a morphine-induced delirium, is tormented in a Hieronymus Bosch-like hell is powerful but jars with the rest of the ballet.

The Tchaikovsky score is well chosen (although, here, marred by a tinny recording) and Vyacheslav Okunev's costumes are excellent, particularly the gorgeous gowns for Anna.

The performance of the evening was Oleg Gabyshev's Vronsky, magnificently danced and passionately acted. In the title role, Nina Zmievets danced with astounding strength and fearlessness, although she seemed too strong to be convincing as this hapless heroine. Oleg Markov was a fine Karenin and the corps performed with inexhaustible energy and commitment.

Natasha Rogai