Dance Review: ANNA KARENINA (Joffrey Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler in L.A.)

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by Shari Barrett on June 30, 2024

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles

Like so many other little girls growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s, my mother enrolled me in ballet lessons hoping her dream of me becoming a prima ballerina would be achieved. Of course, that was never going to happen, but it did teach me the difference between my right and left foot when I was 4 years old. And wearing a tutu made me feel like a “really pretty girl” when my mother applauded my entrance onstage in our recitals. It didn’t matter to her that I was one of the worst dancers in the class, only that I tried my best and smiled while doing it.

The Ensemble

Since then, I have enjoyed attending many ballet performances with my Mom when the companies visit Los Angeles. But I have to say, none has impressed me as much as The Joffrey Ballet’s rendition of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s 19th-century masterpiece about illicit love in Czarist Russia which visited the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center the weekend, June 21-23. Brought to exquisite life, exploding with passion, longing, and pain, the atmospheric set design and lavish costumes designed by Tom Pye, elegant multi-style choreography by Yuri Possokhov, brooding score by Ilya Demutsky, dramatic lighting by David Finn recreated by Chris Maravich, and projections by Finn Ross redesigned by Troy Fujimura, kept me enchanted from start to finish.

Victoria Jaiani, Alberto Velazquez

Anna Karenina is “a story passed down from generation to generation, much in the manner of a timeless folktale,” according to Possokhov. Even the violent political undercurrent bubbling beneath the surface, starting from the opening scene in a train station to its tragic, heart-wrenching conclusion, brought waves of glorious joy to my soul, given the exquisite dancing by the entire ensemble; most noteworthy Victoria Jaiani in the title role who blissfully floated as if weightless in the arms of Alberto Velazquez as her lover Vronsky. Their lovemaking pas de deux was a dream come true to behold, the epitome of graceful and overwhelming sexual attraction without needing to be graphic in its rendition, performed together on and around an elegant chaise lounge. Of course, when Velazquez threw off his jacket to pursue her bare-chested, gasps from the audience filled the theater – and for good reason. The entire sequence was red hot, accompanied by exquisite romantically-rising vocals by Lindsay Metzger.

Alberto Velazquez, Victoria Jaiani

Of course, the real problem for the lovers is that Anna is married to Karenin, a ranking politician. His elegance was on full display by the tall and handsome Dylan Gutierrez whose long-legged leaps took my breath away, dressed in form-fitting formal wear. And when the lovers and her husband performed their heartbreaking pas de trois, with the two men attempting to win her away from the other, my heart was breaking for all of them given the emotions each elicited, knowing one would be tossed aside. Jaiani let us see her attraction to both men as well as her desire to honor the life her wealthy husband has given her and their son Seryozha (Jimmy Gershenson) and her marriage vows.

Alberto Velazquez

Staged in a similar way to the race track scene in My Fair Lady, the Act I finale finds the ensemble dancers ready to take their seats in the grandstand, easily floating among themselves with the ladies carrying small white parasols to shield themselves from the sun. Anna and her husband arrive, mingle with friends, and take their spots just as the jockeys, including Vronsky, start to race. Projections above the grandstand suggest the galloping of horse legs, with the jockeys athletically dancing and leaping in unison. Pure magic to behold.

Alberto Velazquez, Victoria Jaiani, and the Joffrey ensemble

Act II opens with Anna sick in bed, delirious with fever. And though her attentive husband stays by the foot of her bed, it is Vronsky who stays at her side, asking forgiveness from her husband before running away in shame. It is at this point the dreamlike romantic pas de trois takes place as described previously. But as soon as her husband leaves to take a stand in Parliament, Anna and Vronsky escape together to start a new life in the Italian countryside. And the tragedy of their love affair soon comes to light, bringing darkness to their souls as well as to the stage.

Victoria Jaiani, Alberto Velazquez and Dylan Gutierrez

Another love triangle in the story is that of Kitty and Levin (Anais Bueno and Hyuma Kiyosawa), she in love with Vronsky who loves Anna, and he as Vronsky’s friend who only has eyes for Kitty. Ultimately the ballet ends with the now-married Kitty and Levin enjoying a simple country life together, with Levin mourning the loss of his friend while enjoying happiness with Kitty. But as the curtain falls, Levin is finally able to find contentment in understanding the purpose of his life, thoroughly expressing his happiness through dance, something that eluded Anna, her husband, and Vronsky. Thus, the ballet ends with tragic and romantic artistry, brought to life by the exquisite dancers of The Joffrey Ballet, co-produced with the Australian Ballet.

Victoria Jaiani

photos of Joffrey’s Chicago world premiere by Cheryl Mann (2019)

Anna Karenina
The Joffrey Ballet
presented by Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in DTLA
ended on June 23, 2024
for tickets, call 213.972.0711 or visit Music Center
for more info, visit Joffrey

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