Theater archives

Love and Death


“Happy families are all alike.” Boris Eifman must have agreed with his fellow Russian Leo Tolstoy when he ransacked Anna Karenina for his ballet of the same name. Eifman, however, bent as usual on lurid melodrama at a constant high pitch, must have found Tolstoy’s quiet but profound accounts of domestic experience boring. So he has ignored the paean to settled family life that the novelist deftly juxtaposes with his heroine’s reckless plunge into love that leads to self-immolation. Kitty and Levin don’t exist in the ballet—only Anna, who sacrifices everything to passion, her tormented spouse, and her irresistible lover, Vronsky. As far as I could make out, Eifman believes that an effective contrast to Anna’s tale is to show—in passages featuring the corps de ballet operating at full throttle—that adultery and child abandonment corrupt society at large. Needless to say, this makes for scenes that are either tedious or unfathomable—or both.

Oddly, perhaps because the ways to depict ecstatic sexual intercourse in ballet are limited, the most compelling personage in the piece turns out to be the betrayed husband, Karenin. He ricochets between enraged cruelty toward his unfaithful wife and piteous pleas for her forgiveness and love. Played by Albert Galichanin in a Stanislavsky-influenced mode, he turns out to be the one about whom you care. Maria Abashova and Yuri Smekalov are striking too, but more in terms of sheer gorgeousness than depth of character.

As veteran Eifman watchers know, the choreographer’s vocabulary neglects at least half the material that makes classical ballet eloquent and thrilling. Here, once again, it’s all preposterously high leg extensions, extravagant arm gestures to match, and whiplash spines. Matters like small quicksilver steps with beats are gone the way of Kitty and Levin. Just about uniformly long-limbed and swivel-hipped, dedicated to a single sleek idea of glamour, the dancers look almost androgynous. Eifman skimps on other essential choreographic devices too. There are no soloists, and the ensemble is invariably deployed in grid formations, as if obedience to strict geometry were the only spatial game in town.

Visually, Anna K, the Ballet is quite a show, with lavish gowns escalating to a gilt-ridden period-costume ball and austerely handsome scenography that, shall we say, climaxes in a dancer-animated concept of that fatal train.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company—the gifted farm team astutely led by John Meehan—added guest appearances by alums to a program of contemporary works danced by the juniors. Among the seasoned pros, Herman Cornejo and Danny Tidwell, who couple virtuosity with soul, gave the kids something worthy to aspire to. The 13 Studio Company members were showcased in works created on them—this clay-in-the-choreographer’s-hands experience being part of their learning process. While a matched pair of pieces by Brian Reeder lacked both physical logic and sensibility, two other attempts showed promise. In her handsome and striking Veiled Calling, with its primitive-ritual air, Jessica Lang demonstrated a mastery of the choral manipulation of figures in space. She hasn’t yet figured out how to give intimate encounters the same power. Jessamyn Lawrence, on the other hand, in some thousand million hundred more bright worlds, persuasively evoked two pairs of young lovers, one with the gauche beauty of adolescents, the other radiant in experience. Everywhere, the nascent artists danced with a technical aplomb and expressiveness that bodes well for them.