Joffrey Ballet Dances ‘Anna Karenina’

How do you fit an 800-page Russian classic into a night’s ballet? Throw a lot of ballroom dances.

There has been a couple of attempts to make Leo Tolstoy‘s “Anna Karenina” into a ballet before – there also has been two operas and nearly two dozen filmed versions. Past ballets have usied a pastiche of works from Tchaikovsky for the music. But Yuri Possokhov’s recent version, presented with verve this week at the Kennedy Center is a winning one.

Although some themes and many of the details from the eight-part classic from 1878 – and its 239 chapters (!) could not fit into the co-production with the Australian Ballet, its spirit and essence come alive in a presentation that seems briskly modern – if not for its adult themes of betrayal, at least for Possokhov’s striking, angular choreography and certainly for the fresh score by 39-year-old Russian composer Ilya Demutsky, who brings a cinematic sweep to resonant old country themes.

It works beautifully with Tom Pye’s sleek set design, whose swirling geometric frames suggest Suprematist artist Malevich, even as they somehow create, with the projections by Finn Ross and lighting design by David Finn, the arches of the Russian railroad stations that frame the action with separate tragedies.

And what are we to know of the action? Well, among the dancers at a fancy party at a Moscow salon is the vision of of the title character (Amanda Assucena) who catches the eye of a calvary officer (José Pablo Castro Cuevas) she had first encountered by chance at the railway station, where an old man had jumped to his death.

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