Tuesday, 1 November 2016

'Anastasia' at The Royal Opera House

On Monday evening we went to The Royal Opera House to see the latest Royal Ballet production, Kenneth MacMillan's 'Anastasia'. Something I like about the programmes and cast lists at the Royal Opera House is that they tell you how many performances there have been of a particular show so I can tell you that was the 69th performance at the Royal Opera House of this ballet since it was first created. So there you go.

'Anastasia' is about the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Anna, the woman who emerged after the First World War to claim that she was the daughter who had somehow survived the war and revolution. MacMillan choreographed the ballet in 1971 before DNA tests proved there was no link between Anna and the Romanov family so the ballet presumes that Anna might actually be Grand Duchess Anastasia. And what a powerful ballet it is.

It was a bit of a surprise to enter the Amphitheatre and not see the plush red curtains covering the stage - instead there was a giant, grainy, black and white photo of the Romanov family with Rasputin photoshopped into it on one side - Tsar, Tsarina, four daughters and one son. I'd forgotten about the mad monk who stalks menacingly through portions of the ballet like a malevolent spirit (and who Anastasia is obviously wary of). It was quite poignant to see this photo of the Romanovs below the royal crest of the Royal Opera House with all the royal houses of Europe having links in some way. The original photo is included in the programme without Rasputin photoshopped in (he's at the top right in this photo).

The first act is a tale of youthful joy, a family outing on a steamer with attentive crew and limitless possibilities. The daughters all dance and tease the officers and Anastasia is the centre of attention. She and her sisters dance with the handsome, young officers while other officers leap from the side of the ship to have a swim in the sea. Happy, care-free times, times to look back on and smile. And then the Tsar receives the message that war has been declared on Germany. Yes, it's 1914 and dark times are coming.

The second act takes place in 1917 and is more stately, more sedate, lacking the joy of the pre-war years. Russia has been at war for three years and the world has changed. We see Anastasia'a coming out ball at which the Tsar has invited his favourite ballerina and her partner to perform and we get a great entertainment section. This act is interrupted by a great sequence at the front of the stage of the revolutionaries preparing for insurrection and then we see them invading the palace and setting it alight (with flames on the tops of some walls, looking very realistic).

The third act is Anna - or Anastasia? - in a mental institution reliving memories of her family, of the revolution, of Rasputin. Are they memories or are they made up from what she's been told or read? Other than a hospital bed the stage was empty with Anna dancing her madness with various memories appearing now and then to dance with her or torment her. This was very absorbing to watch, very intense and driven, and was the longest act with the dancer playing Anna being on stage the entire time. It doesn't try to resolve the conundrum of whether Anna is Anastasia but it offers glimpses and possibilities.

Our Anastasia was Lauren Cuthbertson and her mother, Tsarina Alexandra was the wonderful Itziar Mendizabal who I've seen before in 'Giselle' and 'The Winter's Tale' - her performance confirms her as the queen of grace and precision in my eyes. Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae were the excellent dancers in the second act. Lauren Cuthbertson was also Anna in the painful third act, the woman who may or may not be the real Anastasia. She was on stage for the entire time with so much stamina and energy that she deserved all the flowers she got when it was time for the bows.

This is an excellent production and deserves to be seen by everyone who can make it. Have an imagination, have a soul and you can't fail to like it and be drawn in by it. I was.

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