Ballet Review: Anastasia

I went to see The Royal Ballet’s Anastasia at a live cinema relay at the beginning of November. I wrote an article about my experience of live cinema relays for qmunicate, but here’s my review of the production – leaving aside the issue of cinema screenings!

The Royal Ballet’s recent production of Anastasia is undoubtedly unusual. Never in my experience of attending ballet performances have I seen two such bluntly opposing styles combined in one provoking package: it’s both sumptuous and stark; opulent and ominous.

anastasia
Image credit: Anastasia, Royal Ballet

Anastasia is inspired by the well-known tale of the supposedly murdered Romanov princess – or, at least, the German woman who believed herself to be the last surviving daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, who was thought to have been assassinated in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Originally devised as a hauntingly expressionist one-act ballet in 1967 by the balletic visionary Kenneth MacMillan, it was only upon his appointment as the director of the Royal Ballet in 1971 that the first two acts – which are clearly influenced by the classical English tradition – were added, to form one complete (if slightly erratic) production.

The first two acts are precisely what you would expect of a magnificent Royal Ballet production: sweepingly scored by Tchaikovsky and full of elaborate sets, graceful movements, and lots of history and convention. The second act in particular is breath-taking: the unbelievably exquisite costumes (those headdresses!) almost threaten to remove the spotlight from the utterly mesmerising Marianela Nunez. Unquestionably the most gifted ballerina I’ve ever seen, Nunez’s performance as the Tsar’s challenging mistress defies adequate description: how am I ever supposed to describe just how elegant and engaging and beautiful her dancing is?

Initially Natalia Osipova, the talented ballerina dancing the childishly gleeful part of Anastasia, pales in comparison, but Osipova indisputably comes into her own during the startling third act. Scored by Martinu’s Sixth Symphony, the chilling music eerily matches the terrifying ugliness of the situation at hand: uniformly dressed nurses hover beside Osipova’s Anna Anderson as she is visually assaulted with old photos of the Russian royal family, and troubled by ghosts of her uncertain past. Watching the psychological deterioration onstage is a visceral, almost frightening experience and provides a sharp contrast to the splendid riches of the previous acts.

As ever, I feel sad and unsatisfied when the ballet finishes, but this particular emotion is indicative not just of my usual disinclination to detach myself from the wonderful world of ballet, but of the production itself. Although each section is meritorious and captivating in its own way, the two appear so different and irreconcilable that I can’t help thinking: why did the Royal Ballet even bother? As controversial as it may seem, maybe two halves just aren’t supposed to become whole…

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