Joffrey Ballet's 'Anna Karenina' - love, fate, tragedy and the beauty of life

 
Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 2/19/2019 2:34 PM
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  • "Anna Karenina" is successfully staged at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University at 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive with five more performances left.Courtesy of Cheryl Mann

    "Anna Karenina" is successfully staged at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University at 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive with five more performances left.Courtesy of Cheryl Mann

"All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," wrote Leo Tolstoy in his famous novel "Anna Karenina." This tragic story came to our city in the form of ballet, and Chicago is excited to witness the premiere of The Joffrey Ballet's and The Australian Ballet's co-production of "Anna Karenina." It is performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic and features outstanding choreography by Yuri Possokhov and unforgettable music by Ilya Demutsky. "Anna Karenina" is successfully staged at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University at 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive with five more performances left. They will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 22, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 23, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 24.

"'Anna Karenina' is the first full-length story ballet commissioned by the Joffrey accompanied by an original score," wrote Greg Cameron, The Joffrey Ballet President and CEO, in the program notes. "We celebrate Robert Joffrey's commitment to storytelling -- to reimagining and retelling the classics. We are, of course, most grateful to a 'cast' of many who have joined us on this journey from idea to creation."

This production features an international cast that consists of acclaimed ballet dancers Victoria Jaiani (Tbilisi, Georgia) in the role of Anna Karenina, Alberto Velazquez (Havana, Cuba) in the role of Alexey Vronsky, Fabrice Calmels (Paris, France) in the role of Alexey Karenin, Anais Bueno (Cordoba, Mexico) in the role of Kitty Shcherbatskaya, Yoshihisa Arai (Hiroshima, Japan) in the role of Konstantin Levin, April Daly (Rockford, IL) in the roles of Countess Nordston and Betsy Tverskaya, Derrick Agnoletti (San Jose, CA) in the roles of Station Guard and Doctor, Julia Rust (Noblesville, IN) in the role of Nanny, and many other extremely talented and bright ballet dancers. The role of Anna's son Seryozha is performed by Oliver Reeve Libke.

The "Anna Karenina" production became possible because of the fantastic job of The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, dramaturge Valeriy Pecheykin, set and costume designer Tom Pye, lighting designer David Finn, projection designer Finn Ross, vocalist Lindsay Metzger, music director Scott Speck, lead ballet master and production coordinator Suzanne Lopez, assistant to the choreographer Quinn Wharton, and many other devoted professionals.

The music of world renowned Russian composer Ilya Demutsky and the choreography of international ballet choreographer Yuri Possokhov who also has Russian roots became an unforgettable collaboration where each note, movement and emotion demonstrate the depth of this immortal Russian masterpiece written by Leo Tolstoy. The main heroine, attractive Countess Anna Karenina, desperately looks for love, passion and attention, but after a short period of happiness with her lover Alexey Vronsky receives criticism, judgement and abandonment, and eventually kills herself by jumping under a running train.

This production demonstrates the endless emotional tension that Anna goes through. It is vividly portrayed in Demutsky's music that is built on various leitmotivs that belong to different characters and demonstrate various ideas. Anna's theme is sincere and lyrical, and her inner struggle is felt in every motion and every note. Demutsky's music and Possokhov's choreography interweave in an extremely harmonic way showing Anna's personality and various states of her mind. Her main emotion, though, is pain, whether she witnesses the death of an old station guard, feels lonely and unhappy around her emotionally cold husband, is surrounded by the members of the judgmental upper level society, and even when she has intimate relationships with Vronsky. Probably, it is the pain of a woman who unsuccessfully tries to enjoy forbidden love and is eventually left alone by everyone, including her lover.

Vocalist Lindsay Metzger adds a tragic note to this beautiful score and emphasizes the main points of the production. Her voice complements the orchestra and underlines every move made by Anna. Not every ballet production includes vocalists, so this touching addition to the music score became a great feature that makes Joffrey's "Anna Karenina" even more unique.

Elegant and vivid, Possokhov's choreography embodies the characteristics of both Russian classical ballet and contemporary dance elements. It literally takes your breath away and makes you forget about reality. Every dancer on the stage is important, and the main characters are frequently accompanied by other dancers who represent Kitty's parents, Policemen, Jockeys, Russian Society, Peasants, and others. These group scenes help to visualize the environment of Russian 19th century society and impress with their artistic presentation and beautiful costumes.

The culmination of the ballet, Anna's death, is visually and musically so intense and scary that some audience members even had tears in their eyes watching this scene and hearing the music that accompanied it. Anna is gone, her unhappy marriage, forbidden love, and judgmental society made her commit suicide, so what is next? Is it the end of the story? No. The ballet ends picturing Kitty and Levin enjoying a simple country life, although the sad notes of Anna's leitmotif are still heard in the distance. The orchestra plays melodies that resemble Russian national music, and Russian peasants enthusiastically dance against the background that shows a beautiful field.

However, life has the whole spectrum of colors and makes people experience a combination of various emotions. In the final scene, Levin demonstrates his dual feelings --the feeling of happiness from his marriage and the feeling of a tragic loss. This is the meaning of life, which is described by Possokhov and Demutsky in an extremely talented manner; a manner that will stir up the minds and the hearts of many generations to come.

For tickets, please call 312-386-8905, go to http://www.joffrey.org/anna or obtain them at The Joffrey Ballet's official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office. Single tickets are priced from $35 to $199.

Natalia Dagenhart

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