An intriguing but somewhat unsatisfying dance version of Tolstoy’s much loved epic novel, this is part of the Stage Russia screenings and come to us from the Vakhtangov Theatre choreographed by Angelica Cholina.

The ballet transfers very well from stage to screen,  photographed cleanly and thoughtfully, with excellent use of appropriate close up .While the individual elements were great, with fine performances by an excellent cast, this production proved to be rather strange and disappointing.

Cholina has based this work on Tolstoy’s novel of sweeping love and despair which details the life of the eponymous Anna, a St. Petersburg aristocrat who is caught in a loveless marriage, against the backdrop of rigid late 19th century Russian society. Streamlining and abridging the novel, the adaptation is an analysis of (un)happy family life and also looks at the high echelons of society at the time and how emotions conflicted with social conventions. Tolstoy’s novel is widely considered a pinnacle in realist fiction.

Set design by Marius Jacovskis was fluidly minimalist with a few columns/streetlamps, various tables and chairs and a high, long, extended bench that doubled as a table among other things as the narrative raced along.

The period costumes by Yuozas Statkevichus were elegant and ravishing. The soundscape was often sharp, spiky, driven and relentless but there were passionate bubbling Tchaikovsky elements included (there were both musical and choreographic allusions to his Swan Lake) as well as extracts of opera and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Cholina’s choreography was very ‘contemporary’ at times, quite acrobatic and athletic,  with some allusions to the styles of Macmillan and Ek. Sometimes the production was very stylishand formal with large blocks of movement for the ensemble of the Corps – cases in point the malicious swirling and whispering of the society gossips, the celebrations of Kitty and Levin’s wedding, and Karenin surrounded by his minions, not forgetting the My Fair Lady Ascot like scene at the races.

There was also a very effective use of staccato rhythms for the representation of the train. Rolling floorwork was also included and there were some wonderful swooping, dipping pas de deux for Anna and Vronsky. (Kitty and Levin have some intricate ,rather fussy pas de deux and also some great swirling, passionate pas de deux as well).

Dark, fiery Anna was luminously danced by Olga Lerman who gave her all in a hypnotic performance and handled the extremely angular and demanding choreography with ease. She conveyed the terrible unhappiness of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, her unexpected whirlwind attraction to Vronsky. We also see her devotion to her young son.

Vronsky was splendidly danced by blonde, handsome Dimitry Solomykin who displayed his magnificent technical prowess and was a terrific partner in the demanding pas de deux. We first see him looking very elegant in a white uniform.We see him dazzled by Anna but with time becoming unhappy in their relationship.

Tall, dark, oily and imposing Karenin was coldly played by Evgeny Knyazev as pompous, inscrutable, self satisfied and self centred devoted to his work.

Levin was powerfully danced by Fedor Vorontsov with his thrilling, fluid technique and his great use of his expressive, intense eyes.

Kitty, his eventual wife, was enchantingly danced by Ekaterina Kramzina as shy and nervous especially at first in the tentative beginnings of their relationship. She does however blossom and end up reveals a steely resilience.

Summing up, this was a gloriously danced and costumed version but one that felt a little unclear with all the complicated relationships bound within it.

Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval

Stage Russia’s screening of ANNA KARENINA from the Vakhtangov Theatre, choreographed by Angelica Cholina, is currently screening at arthouse cinemas.