Anna Karenina, Coliseum, London


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The Independent Culture

Boris Eifman's dancers launch themselves into tortured poses, hauling each other through lifts or folding into gymnastic knots. There's certainly a lot of angst, but this version of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is short on specific insight.

Eifman is one of Russia’s leading choreographers, known for dance dramas focusing on his characters’ psychological states. He founded his own company in 1977, and has led it successfully through decades of political change. Some of his ballets explore the lives of real-life artists, such as Tchaikovsky or Rodin; this rare London season presents two literary adaptations, Anna Karenina and Onegin.

Tolstoy’s dense novel is a tough subject for ballet. Alexei Ratmansky’s recent production for the Mariinsky Ballet struggled to give its many characters enough depth. Eifman throws out the supporting cast, setting Anna, her husband Karenin and her lover Vronsky against a corps de ballet of aristocrats, soldiers or the proletariat. It becomes two acts of generalised emoting.

The staging is brisk. Z Margolin’s sets whisk in and out, gilded arches and balconies suggesting a ballroom or the races. V Okunev’s stylised costumes have some period touches – long skirts for the women, a frock coat for Karenin. The music is a hotchpotch of recorded Tchaikovsky, chunks of symphonies, orchestral suites and Francesca da Rimini. It sets an emotional tone, but Eifman rarely engages with the details of his music.

He choreographs in huge swipes. In an early duet, Nina Zmievets’ feverish Anna drops to one knee, edging away from her husband’s outstretched hand. It’s a small moment, but much more effective than the big, vague movements that dominate this duet. When Karenin paces the floor, flexing his clasped hands, the gesture is exaggerated into hamminess.

The corps setpieces are jittery, pushing the dancers fast, while the solos are full of wrenching changes of direction. There’s not much contrast, and little sense of development. Before her suicide, his Anna strips to her bodystocking, throwing off the conventions of society. It doesn’t make that much difference to the choreography: before and after, she hurls herself around.

Eifman's company give a committed, athletic performance. Zmievets is tireless and fearless, from her love duets to a dead fall from a height. Oleg Markov makes a charismatic Karenin, with bold, ardent partnering from Oleg Gabyshev’s Vronsky.


Eifman Ballet season continues until 7 April. Box office 0871 911 0200.