Boris Eifman is famous for being controversial. His ballets are highly-charged, highly sexual and hugely psychological. Anna Karenina, based on Tolstoy’s classic novel, delivers Eifman’s bold style with unremitting and unsubtle bolshiness. A dramatic introspection into the turbulent minds of Anna (Natalia Povoroznyuk), her husband Karenin (Oleg Markov) and lover Vronsky (Oleg Gabyshev), the performance is far from subtle in its message as much as its movements.
Despite its brashness, or perhaps as a result of it, Anna Karenina remains the most technically brilliant dance performance I have seen on stage this year. From the outset, the sheer talent of the principal dancers is overwhelmingly apparent. Eifman’s choreography intends to display the physical and emotional destruction of Anna Karenina – of a lover and a mother who falls into a spiral of loss and grief leading eventually to her death, and in this he succeeds. As the trials become increasingly turbulent, alternating duets between Anna and her lovers heighten in dramatic intensity. The choreography in these scenes is intricate: movements falls in and out of symmetry, disrupting and disturbing synchronisation with deliberate force. The psychological strains are apparent through the visual, powerful lifts suddenly turning to jarring convulsions.
The culminating scenes of the second act leading to Anna’s death are a frenzy of emotion and electricity. Dancers’ bodies contort maniacally, blurring the distinction between limbs in scenes that are at once both mechanical and visceral. Reducing Tolstoy’s novel to the love story that encircles the main three protagonists, Eifman is able to concentrate on developing Anna’s psyche. However, in doing so, the story is unavoidably simplified, becoming a wholly internalised battle, unaffected by the pressures and influences of an outside society.
With costumes that alternate between modern and traditional, Eifman’s choreography in Anna Karenina arguably does the same. Combinations of modernist dance and music slide into madness alongside the dancers, with clever and frequent interaction with limited props.
Anna Karenina is certainly a spectacle and with the loss of all the subtleties of Tolstoy’s novel, the story gains dynamism from sheer physical energy. Its forcefulness is impressive, yet the story still feels lacking; the complexities of the psyche, and of the love story between Anna and Vronsky, are intensified but simplified.
Anna Karenina played at the London Coliseum until 19 April. For more information, please see the English National Opera website.