Los Angeles welcomed The Joffrey Ballet in Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina under the auspices of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center from June 21-23, 2024. Considered to be one of the great works of literature, in Tolstoy’s own words, it was his “first true novel.”  Ashley Wheater, the Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director, heads the historic and outstanding Joffrey company. Having worked with Royal Ballet’s great Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Micheal Somes, Wheater is no stranger to dramatic Story Ballets.

Anna Karenina has been created by the powerful Ukrainian-born choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, whose roots, experience, and artistry emanates from his very soul. What could be more perfect? Possokhov, not only brings deep love for this history, but is a genius for contoured complex staging, brilliant inventive movement, and the admission that music is the basis of his creativity. “Music is number one in Ballet, if I see that music, my steps make chemistry … and this is what makes me happy.”  It is this musicality that helps make the chemistry real for Joffrey’s soloists and corps performers. It is his inspired changes, reversals and gravity-defying steps, along with the highly facile dancers that makes the difficult look easy. Along with his aesthete, he has the good judgement for combining a masterful team.

The Joffrey Ballet ensemble in "Anna Karenina" - Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet ensemble in “Anna Karenina” – Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The brilliance of Ilya  Demutsky’s music, flavored by the spirit of Prokofiev and Stravinsky, is a  young 21st Century composer just out of his thirties. He has the soul for haunting melodies, rageful dissonance, and soaring dramatic musical narratives. Demutsky inserts evocative and poignant songs reminiscent of Russian folk tunes. The feeling is as though it has always been in the air and is so beautifully performed by mezzo soprano Lindsay Metzger. Scott Speck, Music Director & Conductor, added the musical spirit and depth. The music and superior Joffrey dancers unearthed the relationships, social acceptance and rejection through Possokhov’s dramatic understanding of class in this ill-fated story. The dancer’s ability to technically execute and animate the complex choreography in weighty period costumes became the bedrock that impelled the piece into its own life and grandeur.

Amanda Assucena, playing Anna on June 22, grows with the role from comfortable wife of stature, to passionate lover, to distraught spirit. Her feet and legs were a miracle that grew beyond any barriers, her body lyrical, responding without resistance to Count Vronsky’s advances and love-making. Her sense of responsibility to the story converged, and she fully became the tortured character. Vronsky is played by José Pablo Castro Cuevas. He is a lovely flawless dancer, but without maturity enough for the sexual chemistry, seasoning and gravity that makes it clear why Anna would leave her comfortable marriage, wealth and even child with her traditionally rooted husband Karenin (Edson Barbosa), for the intoxicating and electrifying Vronsky.

The Joffrey Ballet - Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in "Anna Karenina" - Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet – Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in “Anna Karenina” – Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The exposition of the story unveils the magnetic need between Anna and Vronsky in spite of Kitty, the daughter of the wealthy Shcherbatskaya family’s, hope to be his pick. The transformation in the second act with Anna and Vronsky’s passionate and contentious pas de deux consummates the relationship with a stunning supplication; an amazing athletic melding and yielding of their bodies which, Assucena in particular, carries the passion of the scene to a highly moving moment.

The celebrated costume and set designer, Tom Pye used earthtones, of mauves, teal, golds, reds, and creams set against grays, and black lace with rich satins, furs, feathers, wools and cashmeres. The Lighting design by David Finn so beautifully evoked the sense of time and place enhancing Pye’s sparse sets. Stylized scrims travel, setting the scenes and isolating locations. They were able to convert to filmic representations as the Projection Designer Finn Ross recollected the Russian winter snows and rain, the face of the beloved, with sets converging into large halls, boudoirs, train stations, and wheat fields. All a stunning unfolding of the story.

The Joffrey Ballet - Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in "Anna Karenina" - Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet – Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in “Anna Karenina” – Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The outstanding Joffrey corps as guests and relatives, led by morally loose, socialite, Vronsky’s wealthy cousin, and Anna’s friend, Betsy, is played by the vivacious Valeria Chaykina. The charming young Kitty (Yumi Kanazawa) and Levin (Xavier Nuñez), her second choice, clearly counters Karenina’s tragic conflicting story. At first Levin is rejected by Kitty, who waits for Vronsky’s notice. Kitty and Levin at this point fail to come together. However, later they celebrate her change of heart and consummate their union. Their pas de deux reflect their, and their friend’s, joy.

A stark and fascinating scene in the second act seems to explain Karenin’s tough solidity when he appeals to Parliament. It appears to reflect his cold calculations against the odds. The prominent Parliamentary coat of arms in blue and gold looks down on the room of factions as if looking on in judgement. The large space is designed with chairs, lined on three sides against walls. In military fashion the men at first sit rigid and unbending, then use the chairs to impel themselves in mid-air as they object and deny. They soon march in lock step against Karenin’s proposal, presenting with full clarity and efficacy their denials.

The Joffrey Ballet - Victoria Jaiani in "Anna Karenina" - Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet – Victoria Jaiani in “Anna Karenina” – Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Transitioning, Anna, after losing the right to see her son, drugged and heartbroken, staggers to the train station and onto the train tracks, standing unmoving, as the light from the train comes ever nearer. The tragic suicide ends all; marriage, motherhood, and passion. With a slow transition a haunting and powerful song, reminiscent of the Songs of the Auvergne, Metzger sings of life in the Russian countryside with its pastural wheat and hay fields that inspire a simple Russian dance and song, the peasants frolic in barefooted freedom. It leads to a rhapsodic ending by Levin, who expresses euphoria with the warm winds and simplicity of life and family. Sheers of silk and pastel gently unfold, wafting in the air as Levin moves, and dances in euphoric celebration for his new found happiness with Kitty, ending this dark drama.

This work of art is a rendering gratefully experienced by the Los Angeles audiences, so important to be seen, compared and realized. Thanks to the amazing support of Glorya Kaufman, we are seeing world class work by our contemporary geniuses who are passing on their gifts to remember for the future.

Artists of the Company:

Coco Alvarez-Mena, Amanda Assucena, Edson Barbosa, Evan Boersma, Anais Bueno, Valeria Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, José Pablo Castro Cuevas, Maxwell Dawe, Annabelle de la Nuez, Jonathan Dole, Derek Drilon, Fernando Duarte, Olivia Duryea, Stefan Gonçalvez, Dylan Gutierrez, Reed Henry, Dara Holmes, Victoria Jaiani, Hansol Jeong, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Nee Kojima, Brooke Linford, Zachary Manske, Graham Maverick, Jeraldine Mendoza, Lindy Mesmer, Jackson Miles, Xavier Núñez, Davide Oldano, Wictor Hugo Pedroso, Lauren Quinn, Princess Reid, Aaron Renteria, Basia Rhoden, Christine Rocas, Julia Rust, Rio Sasaki, Natali That, Miu Tanaka, Alberto Velazquez, Ao Want, Valentino Moneglia Zamora.

For more information about the Joffrey Ballet, please visit their website.

To find out more about the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center, please visit their website.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: The Joffrey Ballet – Victoria Jaiani, Alberto Velazquez, Dylan Gutierrez in Anna Karenina – Photo by Cheryl Mann.