The Joffrey Ballet Debuts 'Anna Karenina'—Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Anna Karenina at the Joffrey Ballet

There’s something about Anna Karenina, the fictional heroine from Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same name.

Flavorwire deems her Tolstoy’s most unforgettable character; “Paste” magazine ranks her among “A Dozen of Literature’s Greatest Jerks”; and the Mama Mia site cites her as the greatest literary heroine of all time.

Perhaps that’s why Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Jacqueline Bisset, and Keira Knightley are among the many who’ve portrayed her in 18 television series and movies, nine operas, two plays, a figure skating program, a radio drama, and four (soon to be five) ballets.

This February, ballerina Victoria Jaiani steps into the role for the Joffrey Ballet’s new adaptation of “Anna Karenina” reimagined by choreographer Yuri Possokhov. The world premiere production also marks a first for the company as it commissioned an original score by award-winning composer Ilya Demutsky.

“It’s a real rarity for any ballet company to commission a full-length score. And it was a coup to secure Demutsky, one of the brightest lights in the world of music today,” explains Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck, who will lead the Chicago Philharmonic throughout the run.

“I’ve composed an extremely emotional and, at the same time, very intimate score—with ear-catching leitmotifs, harsh harmonies, and bursts of climaxes,” Demutsky says.

“It is my fourth ballet composed for Yuri Possokhov and every time it is a truly astonishing experience to see how my music materializes in Yuri’s stunning choreography,” adds Demutsky.

“Possokhov is very careful to be true to the score, so he is using Demutsky’s musical vision as the inspiration for his choreography. Ilya is the Tchaikovsky of this ballet,” notes Speck.

Anna Karenina at the Joffrey Ballet

A ballet in two acts, “Anna Karenina” follows the tragic path of an aristocratic wife in Imperial Russia who falls for a younger man, Count Vronsky, portrayed by Alberto Velazquez. Too honest to keep her love a secret, Anna’s actions expose the double standards applied to women during the 1800s.

Indeed, “Of all 19th century novels written by men, ‘Anna Karenina’ is the one most centrally concerned with women, the one which attempts most thoroughly and honestly to confront them in all aspects of their lives,” writes Gayle Greene in “Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies.”

“Tolstoy’s novel is about a storm of feelings and passions, tragedy and family happiness on the back of a massive canvas of morals and manners of Moscow and Saint Petersburg noble society,” observes Demutsky.

“There are many interpretations of ‘Anna Karenina’ in music, theater, and cinematography,” the composer continues, “so it’s been an honor and a great challenge for me to create another one—a special one.”

Yuri Possokhov’s reimagining of “Anna Karenina” performed by the Joffrey Ballet will take place at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (February 13-24). For tickets ($35- $199), visit joffrey.org.

Limited tickets ($25-$35) are also available to the book club event, “A Novel Experience: The Joffrey Ballet’s Anna Karenina” (January 30), hosted by the Joffrey Ballet and the Driehaus Museum at Joffrey Tower.

Photos taken at the Driehaus Museum by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet Company

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to serve as Arts & Culture Editor on our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.