Mariinsky Premiere of Vladimir Vasiliev’s “Anyuta” – December 2023

Although the legendary Bolshoi Ballet star Vladimir Vasiliev first created his ballet “Anyuta” 37 years ago, its premiere at the Mariinsky on 08 December proved the work is as fresh and relevant today as it was then. The famous Chekhov tale is set to a memorable, addictive score by Valery Gavrilin that combines depth with musical themes that recur, underscoring the appearance of various characters. The libretto too speaks of eternal themes: the seduction of wealth and power often at the expense of family values and true love. This colossal staging effort featured three casts of performers, all of whom were honed by Vasiliev himself. The choreography, based on the version first created for television, is richer than most contemporary story ballets staged at major companies worldwide.

On opening night, Renata Shakirova danced a dejected Anyuta who later becomes happily distracted by the wealth and attention surrounding her. The compact soloist projected utter despondence in the opening scene at her mother’s funeral, at home as her father raises a glass, and through her arranged marriage to Modest Alekseyevich. (Modest’s post-wedding night dream foreshadows the attentions that Anuita will receive from His Highness, and the ultimate award of the Imperial Order of Saint Anna, a medallion worn around the neck, the basis for the ballet’s title.) Joy overtook Shakirova only in the lively ballroom scene when suddenly a myriad of men find themselves bewitched by her charms and beauty. She maintained that sense of joy until she encountered the young Student in the final scenes, her smile disappearing instantly as she is crestfallen with the momentary realization of what she has lost.

The greatest highlight of the casting however in fact came from soloist Alexander Sergeev, who cut a heart-wrenching figure as her crumpled, humble father, Pyotr Leontevich. A musical tune resembling a broken music box reverie accompanied Sergeev in the opening scenes as his stiff, elderly frame danced half-steps with the phantom of his late wife, recalling better times. That same reverie announces his further entrances throughout the score. Sergeev’s top notch acting carved a pitiful, lone figure, constantly wiping his eyeglasses, waving his handkerchief, and giving what little money he has to others — to accordion players on the street, and to the gift auction in the ballroom scene, when he is left with neither money nor gifts. It was impossible to stop tears from flowing at curtain close, when Sergeev, dressed in rags, the snow falling around him, looks back at the audience, his fate clear but his future uncertain. Anyone who attends “Anuita” needs to be sure Sergeev is cast, as that alone will be more than worth the ticket price.


Other dancers matched the high quality acting and dancing set by Sergeev and Shakirova. The stately Soslan Kulaev maintained a tireless and constant Dentyne smile –almost forming a caricature of the “benevolent leader”– as His Highness. Alexei Timofeyev embodied the very image of a handsome but poor student whom Anuita foregoes in favor of riches. Roman Belyakov as the noble Baron Artynev, courted Anuita with elegance and poise. Camilla Mazzi performed a delicate Girl who later partners the Student whom Anuita has foregone in favor of status and riches.


The contrast in sets is at once Broadway-like, and yet endlessly engaging for the audience. Bright Moscow cityscapes, albeit turn of the century, alternate with darker, dreary scenes. Act 2 opens with a pop of energy: a racy cabaret-like tune reveals an extravagant ballroom scene. As Vasiliev said during the general rehearsals, “it should be as if everyone is getting down and partying!” And what a party it is: ball gowns twirling, champagne flowing, and men in starched cuffs and tuxedos spinning the ladies. The infectious, peppy score soon shifts to a lyrical near-waltz as Anuita appears and dances with suitors at the ball.

Elaborate sets –from the opening scene at an Orthodox Church funeral, to the Imperial Ballroom, and Moscow street scenes– and period costumes serve only as the starting point. There is also deep symbolism throughout. Modest Alekseyevich’s printing press is bathed in green light and green costumes; one can practically smell the money as he counts and recounts his abacus. At the end of the ballroom scene in Act 2, after Anyuta and Modest head home, four men stand with glasses poised stage left, and drink to the cue of the music as the lights go out.

Moments of genius staging and theatrical effects abound. Clever, catchy choreography draws in even the most uneducated viewer. But mostly, “Anyuta” forces the spectator to consider the most important things in life, what money can and cannot buy. It seems fitting that a legend such as Vladimir Vasiliev, born in another era, at the age of 83, is providing audiences today with what they need to see, hear and learn the most.

With special thanks to Marina Panfilovich, Vladimir Vasiliev, and the staff at the Press Office of the Mariinsky Theatre. Photos here by Natasha Razina. Top photo: Renata Shakirova; second and third images: Alexander Sergeev. Last image Vladimir Vasiliev at the curtain call on opening night.