Anna Karenina, Royal Opera House, London

Zoë Anderson
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:44

Anna Karenina famously ends with a train. In the Mariinsky Ballet's new adaptation of Tolstoy's novel, you get trains all the way through. An elaborate carriage set looms through dry ice and clunks round on a revolve, all but elbowing its way to the front of the stage. It's a laborious effect that never looks as if it's going to work smoothly. Unfortunately, it sets the tone for the ballet.

Anna Karenina is the one new work in the Mariinsky's London season. It was created by Alexei Ratmansky, a choreographer who usually shows a gift for story ballets. His Anna Karenina falls very flat, scrambling through Tolstoy and trying to keep up with its music.

Rodion Shchedrin's score is full of lurching melodrama, short on melody and contrast. Though Ratmansky has streamlined the action, he doesn't do enough to establish his large cast as individual. These flurried dances are too rushed to develop character.

As Anna, Diana Vishneva has a wonderful moment when she believes her lover, Vronsky, has been hurt at the races. She rushes forward, pushing past the Emperor. It's a catastrophic social mistake – you can see that in Vishneva's wincing, please-let-the-ground-swallow-me exit. Then Ratmansky brings her back on for a duet with her husband, which waffles over the same point without making half the impact.

Mikael Melbye's costumes reproduce period styles in much lighter fabrics, letting the dancers move. His designs are dominated by video projections, moving the action swiftly between locations. The whirling images can be awkward, particularly when characters stare disapprovingly from the film screens.

Vishneva works heroically, giving Anna personality and presence as she moves from elegance to desperation. She makes the most of quiet, naturalistic moments, and hurls herself into the lifts and clutches of the duets.

Yuri Smekalov is a tall, bounding Vronsky, though he struggles to give the character much depth. Islom Baimuradov does too much artificial doddering as Anna's husband. The other characters are a hasty parade, whirling through court balls and social events. Playing Kitty, Yevgenia Obrztsova stands out for her buoyant personality and fluid lines.

The Mariinsky season runs to 13 August (020 7304 4000)

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