The Australian Ballet find the heart and soul of Tolstoy’s novel in Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina

Livestream from Arts Centre, Melbourne
March 8, 2022

An Australian outing for Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina has been delayed for three years because of Covid-19 following its world première in Chicago in 2019. It is certainly well worth the wait. Unsurprisingly, it’s a very Russian production that truly understands the novel and sticks much more closely to the text than most other productions.

The novel is not really about the eponymous character. The real thrust is Tolstoy’s obsession with agricultural reform as depicted by Levin, who Possokhov uses as the narrative thread, and whose eventual rejection of the ways of the urban elite and non-traditional farming methods underpin the whole ballet.

Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Adam Bull as Karenin
in The Australian Ballet’s production of Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina
Photo Jeff Busby

Anna and Vronsky represent the decadence of the town, corrupted by machinery and the machinations of polite society as represented by the train. At one point, Karenin kicks Seryozha’s train set into the wings as if it was the very thing that had corrupted his relationship with Anna when she met Vronsky at the station. Levin and Kitty reform into a pastoral innocence as the final scenes after Anna’s death take place in the fields at harvest surrounded by the morally ‘pure’ peasants.

Robyn Hendricks as Anna writhes her way through the acts until her death seems almost an irrelevance. Possokhov’s choreography is challenging with extreme positions and agonised back bends. At times it almost seems as if Anna’s arms will be torn out of their sockets as she is manipulated by her partners in passion and anger. The pas de trios depicting her disturbed dream is particularly effective. At one point, she is lifted by Karenin and he swings her bent legs round Vronsky as if she is being emotionally as well as physically wound round his being.

Robyn Hendricks (Anna) Anna and Callum Linnane (Vronsky)
at the atmospheric railway station in Anna Karenina
Photo Jeff Busby

Karenin’s dance in the zemstvo (an institution of local government) as he is surrounded on three sides by seated men (rather reminiscent of The Green Table) is also very effective and provides another opportunity to depict Karenin’s frustration. The pas de deux for Anna and Vronsky when they are in Italy is not a love duet but an argument as their relationship begins to fray. Of course, when they return to Russia, both are shunned by society.

Callum Linnane is a young Vronsky who, like an adolescent, is first obsessed and then bored by the older Anna as he begins to long for Kitty whom he spurned. Kitty, in turn, is of course as obsessed by the dashing Vronsky as he is by Anna, with Levin bringing up the rear as he tails Kitty. As the latter, Benedicte Bemet is a silly, skittish child in the beginning but matures into a sensible woman before our very eyes until she executes an ecstatic pas de deux in the final scenes with Levin in their pastoral idyll.

Benedicte Bemet as Kitty in Anna Karenina
Photo Jeff Busby

Adam Bull’s scowling Karenin is more than foil for Anna. He creates a rounded, sympathetic character who is initially understanding of Anna’s infatuation even as he tries to steer her to a better course. He is comparatively young and so the usual implication that Anna, like Madame Bovary, has married a much older man is not conveyed.

But it is Brett Chynoweth as Levin who provides the redemption of the piece, and Possokhov provides him with plenty of choreographic scope to express it, not least a challenging solo that ends the ballet.

Tom Pye’s costumes and set are suggestive of the period, leaving plenty of freedom for the dancers to move. Clever economies such as covering the corps’ dresses in a black shift for the ballroom enabling them to be exposed later as day dresses are just one trick. He uses a lot of light fabric which picks up the lighting changes to set the mood: yellow at the races and a deep magenta for Anna that is suggestive of blood.

Ilya Demutsky’s score offers more than a hint of Prokofiev and other Russian idioms although the use of a singer is dulled by the inability to hear what she is singing. Odd words waft through like words caught in snatches of wind but meaning is lost. They do add drama to the music’s dark texture, but I can’t help feeling it would offer so much more if clearly audible.

All told, Anna Karenina is a terrific production that showcases the dramatic and technical talents of the The Australian Ballet to the full.

The Australian Ballet have two further livestreams planned: Marius Petipa’s full-length Harlequinade (to music by Riccardo Drigo) on June 24, 2022, followed by John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet on October 18. Visit for details.