How do you pack an 800-page Leo Tolstoy novel into a two-hour ballet? Well, The Joffrey Ballet was able to pull it off in a unique fashion in their World Premier of Anna Karenina. It is the longest novel that I have ever read and vastly unforgettable in so many ways.
The ballet opens with these huge train wheels on a screen and lots of fog. When things clear, a train guard has discovered a man who has been hit by the train. Anna and Vronsky are on the platform and have witnessed this tragedy together. It is prescient.
Anna Karenina is married to Karenin, a statesman many years her senior. She has met a young, handsome officer named Vronsky and an affair quickly ensues between them. It is an openly known fact as they travel around Russia together. They even live in Italy for a while as a couple. A live opera singer sang during the ballet for a couple of scenes. Her voice in the background during a steamy love scene left us all spellbound.
Anna slips back home on a couple of occasions and we see her husband, Karenin sitting in his office. He realizes that she has returned home when he looks and sees her in their son’s room. Both times, he blocks her interaction with the child and has the governess take the boy away, much to her dismay.
Anna, Vronsky and Karenin are entwined in one dance which reveals the pain and struggle of the love triangle. Anna is overwhelmed and becomes very ill. We see both Karenin and Vronsky standing over her sick-bed. Vronsky realizes what the affair has cost her and finally pleads for Karenin’s forgiveness.
Ultimately, after being given morphine to numb her pain, Anna Karenina sees no way out of her dilemma. We see these huge train tracks being laid down and we see a light coming from an approaching train. Anna walks towards the light with the wind fiercely blowing her hair. She dies like the man did at the beginning of the ballet.
Towards the end, there is a gravesite with many crosses as all mourn Anna‘s death. I saw one father in the audience consoling his young daughter because she was trying to understand why Anna threw herself in front of the train. Personally, I think the story was a little too advanced for young eyes.
Some liberties were taken with the novel’s plot and there was some buzz about that during intermission. One woman shared this with me so I relaxed and stopped fact-checking on my phone to compare what I was seeing to the book, itself. The ballet closes with a young, married couple dancing because they are so in love. They were fortunate enough to find happiness with each other, unlike the tragic Anna Karenina.
Lynn M. February 24, 2019