Rich, rampant and inspiring theatre

By Bradley Storer

In a rare treat for Melbourne audiences, the internationally renowned Eifman Ballet Company bring their acclaimed fusion of Russian classical ballet and contemporary dance to our shores. The company’s aim, under the direction of choreographer Boris Eifman, is the creation of new ballet repertoire that attains the same psychological and thematic complexity as modern drama whilst  exploring the sublime physical dimensions which other artforms cannot approximate. The classic Tolstoy epic, Anna Karenina, certainly qualifies in terms of grandeur and depth, and the Eifman Ballet explores the possibilities of this mammoth novel to their fullest extent.

Ballet by its nature requires plots that can be communicated simply, and in this respect the multilayered and complex narrative of Anna Karenina might have been a poor choice. However, by stripping back the story to focus centrally on the love triangle between Anna, Karenin and Vronsky, the most visceral and powerful elements of the original text are brought to the forefront.

The chorus skilfully express the smothering and oppressive social atmosphere of the St Petersburg court in their tightly formalized and compact dances, gorgeously outfitted in refined dark and grey outfits (alternating with the sleek black leather of the upper aristocracy) which renders them all grandly uniform. Against this unvarying palette come the ill-fated lovers Anna (played in this performance by Maria Abashova) and Vronsky (Oleg Gabyshev), their dances weaving in and out of the static patterns of the chorus burning to be free. Abashova’s achingly beautiful dancing begins trapped inside societal confinements imposed by both court and her husband, and through the first act Abashova shows the soul inside slowly waking to love. Gabyshev is a youthful and virile presence throughout, and when the pair finally consummate their growing passion in a stunning pas de deux, we see the full grace and beauty of their movements, hitherto hidden and stifled, break through the surface at last.

Oleg Markov as Karenin shows us his character’s hopeless entrapment with the bounds of society, the audience aware every moment of Karenin’s simultaneous yearning and inability to break free of the rigid movement imposed on him – when Karenin and his wife dance together, they resemble two puzzle pieces which will never quite fit together.

In Act Two, where Anna and her lover are relegated to the fringes of Russian society as a result of her affair, we delve into deep psychological exploration of the characters’ despair as Vronsky turns to drink and Anna to morphine addiction. The morphine-fuelled fantasy of flesh which Anna dreams is one of the more abstract and challenging aspects of the production, but the final scene which follows provides a thrilling coup de theatre which both matches and heightens the intensely operatic ending and cements this company’s reputation as boundary-pushing and artistically awe-inspiring theatre-makers.

Dates: 29th August to 2nd September, 2012

Price: $55 – $190

Venue: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St, Melbourne