Joffrey Ballet Presents ANNA KARENINA Review – Continuing Innovation

Joffrey Ballet presents Anna Karenina at the Auditorium Theatre, a tragic love story filled with drama, heartbreak, and thrilling costumes and set design choreographed by Yuri Possokhov.

Over the last few seasons, the Joffrey Ballet has produced story ballets that innovate; retelling and reimagining the classics. Beginning with Christopher Wheeldon’s new Chicago oriented Nutcracker in 2016 to last season’s outlandish rendition Midsummer Night’s Dream by Alexander Ekman, the Joffrey Ballet uses elaborate sets, beautiful costuming, and cinematic projections to transport the audience to a new world and push the boundaries of ballet, and Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina is no exception.

Joffrey Ballet Sets the Scene Immediately

As Anna Karenina starts, we feel almost as if we are sitting in a movie theater during the opening scene of a film. Foggy snow projections on a scrim fill the stage. As the snow dissipates, a moving platform and tracks roll onto the stage creating a train platform. Dancers in elaborate Russian period piece costumes begin milling about the stage. In short order we have been catapulted to another world.  This is just the first glance at how set design and costuming transport the audience to Russia in this world premiere!

Throughout the ballet, the scenery helps tell the story, moving between large elaborate sets—such as entire rooms and train stations— and simple pieces of furniture alone on stage. In the moments where there is just one piece of furniture—such as in Anna Karenina’s bedroom or the sofa where Anna and her lover Vronsky have their love affair—the set pieces are used to enhance the choreography.   In this writer’s view this use of the set is especially impactful.

Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Alberto Velazquez and Joffrey ensemble Photo by Cheryl Mann
Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Alberto Velazquez, Victoria Jaiani
Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Alberto Velazquez, Victoria Jaiani and Joffrey ensemble

We are treated to a wide variety of costumes from ball gowns, to racehorse jockeys, to Anna Karenina’s many billowing nightgowns.  The thoughtful costume design is used both to help move the story along and establish each character. For example, Kitty Schcherbatskaya, played by Anais Bueno, always wears costumes in the same shade of light pink. In contrast, Countess Nordston, played by Nicole Ciapponi, always wears dark green and maroon dresses that give her an air of mystery.

From Novel to Ballet

By setting up the character development so intentionally, Possokhov tells the story through choreography.  We are very aware of the emotions that the dancers portray as they are dancing. As someone who knew little about the novel Anna Karenina before seeing this performance, this reviewer was able to follow along almost seamlessly. There were only a few scenes that required a glance back to the synopsis provided in the program and a few that felt disjointed to someone unfamiliar with the plot.

In this writer’s view, the Joffrey dancers are stunning in this performance, especially Victoria Jaiani who plays title role Anna Karenina. She plays to the emotions of the character with precision whether it is passion or despair, and twists and contorts herself to partner both Fabrice Camels, who plays her husband Alexey Karenin, and Alberto Velazquez, who plays her lover Alexey Vronsky. Jaiani embodies Possokhovs soft and loose contemporary movement masterfully.

Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Alberto Velazquez, Victoria Jaiani
Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Anais Bueno

Cinematic Effect

That initial feeling of being at the movies continued throughout the performance.. The projection design adds a layer of realism as scenery of different buildings, people’s faces, and at one point even a close up of a horse’s eye appear on the stage. Moving scrims break up the stage making it seem like characters are in two different places even if they are only five feet apart, and transport the audience to a new scene in an instant even when nothing has physically changed on stage.

The Joffrey Ballet has continued to innovate and increase their production value by adding scenic and projection elements while re-imagining what the experience of coming to a story ballet entails. For those who think they know what to expect at the ballet, the Joffrey will make them think again.

Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Fabrice Calmels and Joffrey ensemble
Joffrey Ballet ANNA KARENINA
Fabrice Calmels, Victoria Jaiani, Alberto Velazquez

Highly Recommended

Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composer: Ilya Demutsky
Set and costume design: Tom Pye
Lighting Design: David Finn
Projection Design: Finn Ross.

Music is performed by The Chicago Philharmonic, led by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck.

Dancers:

Anna Karenina: Victoria Jaiani
Alexey Karenin: Fabrice Calmels
Their son, Seyozha: Oliver Reeve Libke
Alexey Vronsky: Alberto Velazquez
Kitty Shcherbatskaya: Anais Bueno
Konstantin Levin: Yoshihisa Arai
Countess Nordston/Betsy Tverskaya
Station Guard/Doctor: Edson Barbosa
Kitty’s parents: April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco
Nanny: Julia Rust
Policemen: Luis Eduardo Gonzalez and Alonso Tepetzi

When:

Now playing through February 24
Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2pm & 7:30pm
Sundays at 2pm

Where:

The Auditorium Theatre
50 E Congress Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60605

Tickets:

$35.00 - $205.00

For tickets and more information visit the Joffrey Ballet’s website

Photos by Cheryl Mann

For more reviews by Hayley Ross and other dancers and choreographers in the Picture This Post Round-Up, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”.  Watch this video preview of the story here—

Hayley Ross

About the Author:

Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com

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