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Natalia Osipova in Anastasia – review at Royal Opera House – ‘technical perfectionism’

Natalia Osipova and the company in Anastasia at Royal Opera House, London
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Kenneth MacMillan created this ballet backwards. The concluding scene in a blank walled asylum housing Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be Anastasia the sole survivor of the Imperial Russian Romanov family, was originally a one-act ballet made in 1967 for Deutsch Oper Ballet.

Austerely designed and constructed around a score of musique concrete that resembles a cross between short wave radio transmissions and the electronic compositions of Ilhan Mimaroglu, plus Martinu’s Fantasies Symphoniques, it was a penetrating examination of a mind in turmoil, a girl reimagining her own history. The first two acts were added in 1970 and with the addition of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony revealed the world of Tsar Nicholas and the events leading up to the Russian Revolution.

It’s an ambitious, uneven work whose stylistic division is hard to reconcile though Bob Crowley’s Expressionist set provides clues from the start. The unnatural tilt of the Imperial yacht’s golden funnel, the Winter Palace’s chandeliers dangling at 45 degrees suggest a world – or a mind – out of kilter.

As Osipova’s Anastasia prances across the stage, toes pricking the stage like petit point, it is clear there is something strained in her joy. There are some awkward steps for the white uniformed officers, including a nod to the hornpipe, and not all of them are executed well. Some of the groupings are suffused with Ashtonian elegance, though the eye is invariably drawn to the effortlessly regal Christina Arestis as the Tsarina, whose height and carriage make her a natural tragic heroine.

The second act in the Winter Palace is far more confident, with MacMillan marshalling large groups of dancers at an Imperial Ball. The lightly skipping, folkdance-inflected movement ebbs and flows while the Tsar’s favourite ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska (Marianela Nunez) provides the central entertainment in spite of uncharacteristically poor partnering by Federico Bonelli.

The happy-go-lucky Bolsheviks are as camp as a row of tents and the storming of the Winter Palace is a little under-dramatised, real flames notwithstanding.

Like a feather with a spine of steel, Osipova comes into her own in the last act, flinging herself around and watching newsreels of ‘her’ past. While her technical perfectionism doesn’t quite permit the physical abandon that Lynn Seymour would have brought to the role in its original incarnation it’s still a powerful epilogue. A fascinating, flawed work about a fascinating, flawed character.

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Kenneth MacMillan’s early experiment in Expressionism is reanimated by Natalia Osipova