Royal Winnipeg Ballet

"Anna Karenina"

Choreography: Andre Prokovsky
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Centennial Concert Hall
Winnipeg, Manitoba

October 18, 2002
By Catherine Pawlick

On October 16, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet of Canada premiered Andre Prokovsky's Anna Karenina, the ballet adaptation of the famous Tolstoy novel. The work was originally created for Australian Ballet in 1979 and handled exquisitely by the Canadians in their recent premiere. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is the seventeenth company to perform the full-length ballet since its creation, and it did so with refinement and beauty on Saturday night.

The cast was led by the company's own Evelyn Hart, who played the title role, and Jesus Corrales as Count Vronsky. Together the pair has a smoothness and understanding that added to the depth of the evening's performance.

Faithful to the novel, the ballet opens as it closes: in a train station with an imposing steam engine that emerges on stage from a pitch black background to drop off our heroine. Here at Vronsky and Anna's first meeting, the chemistry between them is evident in the longing glances exchanged by Ms. Hart and Mr. Corrales from opposite ends of the stage. When they next cross paths just after the ice skating scene in Act I, Ms. Hart does a fine job of resisting Mr. Corrales's advances at first. Their pas de deux in the garden begins with a seamless, partnered, low attitude turn, which becomes one of Anna's signature steps throughout the ballet. From that moment on, her fate is sealed, and one can view her slow fall into Vronsky through the choreography and gestures of the couple.

Ms. Hart is evidently a seasoned performer. Her supple feet, fluid lines and extensions are evident from the start, and once one sees her believable rendition of Anna, it is no wonder she is a leading lady at Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Though one might argue that Mr. Corrales's stature does not match the image of the tall Count Vronsky, his performance on Saturday night included some impressive jumps and turns; he is a strong partner and good match for Ms. Hart.

Prokovsky's choreography is to be commended in his use of Tchaikovsky's score. No doubt it is a challenge to find pieces of the great composer's works that have not already been usurped by this or that ballet or opera. But Mr. Prokovsky succeeded in finding such pieces: not only does the score for "Anna" fit the novel's theme and emotions, but it offers a complete structure that provides coherence to the three-act ballet.

His choreography is likewise structurally consistent throughout this piece. He ends Vronsky and Anna's first pas de deux as he began it, with the same adagio turn. Anna echoes this turn throughout the performance, often in moments of distress, suggesting her love for someone she cannot have. Anna's torment is carefully expressed in her anguishing gestures in the third act. Equally expressive is the passion shared between the lovers in their first meeting in Anna's garden in Act One.

Just prior to an outdoor skating scene in Act One, we view Anna and her family in a sunny glade, the parents reading in white wicker lawn chairs while Seryozha, Anna's son, runs about the stage playing with his kite. This scene presents the first stark contrast between Karenin's cold, stern manner, danced effectively by John Kaminski, and Anna's deep love and affection for her son. In another dichotomy of sentiment, Annas love for her son and passion for Count Vronsky both appear in clear opposition to her abhorrence at her own wedding ring following her first pas de deux with Vronsky. Ms. Hart made visible Anna's struggle with the mental repercussions of adultery. In sum, her performance demonstrated a range of various emotions quite effectively throughout the ballet, lending credence to her character and to Prokovsky's choreography.

In contrast to the ill-fated Anna and Vronsky, we watch Kitty and Levin dance together throughout the ballet as well. This couple exemplifies the ideal, happy marriage (supposedly models on Tolstoy's own). Cindy Winsor's sprightly jumps and happy manner made a believably blonde Kitty, partnered by Dmitri Dovgoselets.

Prokovsky's inclusion of the waltz in the ballroom scene offered the corps de ballet a chance to demonstrate their polished synchronicity. Royal Winnipeg's ranks include some impressive dancers, prompting one to wonder if any of them will get a chance to explore the roles of Anna and Vronsky in future performances.

The Russian seasons are well-depicted throughout the ballet, notably in the wintry scenes complete with Russian fur hats and coats, a skating scene, and the charming addition of a children's snowball fight and snowman-building session (Act II). Russian springtime is also well-represented in the scene at Vronsky's summer home with peasants celebrating life, love, and harvest time.

This ballet is an impressive addition to the collection of three-act story ballets performed by major companies throughout the world. One can hope that more American companies may add it to their repertoires in the near future.


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Edited by Marie.

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