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.
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.