Anna Karenina – Eifman Ballet: London Coliseum, 3 April 2012

Neo-Soviets are go!

"Nina, are you sure it's wise to try and shave me with your feet?" Oleg Markov and Nina Zmievets get wrapped up in each other for Anna Karenina.

The St Petersburg-based Eifman Ballet blasted headlong into London’s Coliseum with their bombastic re-telling of Anna Karenina. Subtle it wasn’t but it was hugely entertaining and featured exuberant dancing of the highest order.

With minimal staging and storytelling Nina Zmievets’ electrifying Anna revealed the miserable marriage, the passionate fling and the poisonous suicide through a barrage of breathtaking pas de deux and ménage a trois. She was sensational; equally fluent in classical vocabulary as she was in contemporary insectoid scratchings, she also remained defiantly elegant even when being hurled dangerously about by the two men in her life.

True, her character never strayed far from the extremities of anguish and despair, and she stayed pretty much the same woman from beginning to end, but she performed with such energy, conviction and technique it was impossible to tear the eyes away from her.

As her suitors the two Olegs, Markov and Gabyshev, battled hard for her and our attention. Their prodigious strength and superb partnering carried Zmievets painlessly through some extraordinary lifts and throws; MacMillan-esque at times, pure circus acrobatics at others. They were, however, let down by weak characterisation and overwrought solos that failed to progress their individual roles.

The corps were extremely well-drilled although, bereft of any real narrative role, much of their ensemble work felt like padding. Some of their routines however, such as the Venetian carnival scene, were genuinely exciting.

Slava Okunev’s costumes were delicious; the women’s slinky dresses appearing to extend their limbs forever onwards. Tchaikovsky’s mashed up music was generally well-employed, although the sudden burst of Romeo & Juliet just as Anna and Vronsky danced their final doomed duet was a touch trite. The electronic interludes were well integrated, particularly when Anna’s death-throe hallucinations sprang loose.

The ending was gratifyingly bonkers and the evening roared by. Lord knows how they’re going to have physically recovered in time to do it all again tomorrow.

Gerard Davis

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