Natalia Osipova is great as the doomed Russian princess in Kenneth MacMillan's uneven ballet
Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet 'Anastasia' is a salutary lesson in how less can often be more. He created it in 1967 as a one-act piece, using a jagged, expressionist style to present the curious real-life tale of Anna Anderson, a woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and a miraculous survivor of the massacre that wiped out her family in 1918.
Later, MacMillan bolted on two preceding acts, created in a more classical style. Act One has the Romanovs picnicking on board the imperial yacht. Nothing really happens, there’s a lot of milling about and the whole 35 minutes feels scrappy and insubstantial. Act Two, the coming-out ball for Anastasia in the Winter Palace, is better. The decadence of the imperial court is revealed, then the Bolsheviks arrive with rifles and red flags.
Are these memories or fantasies? Either way, it feels like a long haul to get to Act Three. Here, Anna Anderson, urchin-like with shorn hair, sits on a hospital bed in what seems to be an asylum. Past and present, reality and illusion have blurred inside her mind; the Romanovs, the dastardly Rasputin and the rampaging soldiers merge with memories of the husband and child Anna has lost, while nurses and the White Russian women disputing her claim come and go. This, finally, is the scorching, intense, psychologically troubling MacMillan you expect.
What better choice for the role of Anastasia/Anna than Natalia Osipova, the Royal Ballet’s own Russian princess? She’s a precocious Anastasia, quick to make herself the centre of attention, but also at times a melancholy outsider. In Act Two, as she creeps in the shadows observing her parents’ sordid dalliances, Osipova embodies a fascinated repugnance. And as Anna, she is racked by her memories/delusions, twitching, shuddering, and using MacMillan’s stabbing physical vocabulary to wrenching effect. It’s a potent interpretation, enhanced by Ed Watson’s sensitive partnering as her husband – but this is still a messy, disjointed ballet.
BY: SIOBHAN MURPHY