Artisitc feats aren't created overnight. Case in point, The Australian Ballet’s production of Anna Karenina. After almost three years of COVID-related lockdowns, the company are now in the final stages of preparing to bring this masterpiece to life in full Melbourne and Sydney seasons. Can you feel the adrenaline?
Dancers are perfecting their lifts, stage managers are finalising set and prop placement, the technical team is triple checking lighting and projections, and of course, audiences are buzzing with anticipation at the prospect of finally being able to experience this piece of art in real life.
A selection of The Australian Ballet’s artists and creatives reflect on Anna Karenina’s three-year journey to the stage, sharing their feelings about finally seeing the production come to life in Melbourne and Sydney, and why it has defied all odds in enduring the challenges of the past few years.
Anna Karenina is more than an ambitious production. It is a testament to the resilience of every company member who has been involved in its creation.
Soloist, dancing lead role of Anna Karenina
Imogen Chapman was first told she would be dancing the lead role of Anna Karenina in late 2019. She has therefore had the choreography, the story and the emotion of the role embedded in her ever since, waiting for the opportunity to express it all on stage.
“When we get on stage in Melbourne it’s going to be quite cathartic in a way. We are going to really just be able to finally live it. It’s hard to describe…” she says.
Imogen speaks for all artisits when describing how difficult it has been to physically and mentally prepare themselves for the production – the build-up, the excitement, the intensity – only to have it cancelled multiple times. This experience has made the dancers even more eager to share the work with Australian audiences. From a dancer’s perspective, Anna Karenina is an ideal ballet; Possokhov’s choreograph is tactile and intense, the costumes sumptuous, and the score powerfully cinematic.
"The story is so dramatic, and it’s one that most people know. I think that’s why we’ve been so determined to share this production with audiences here. Yes, they are fictional characters, but they are human stories. You really get taken on that journey with Anna and Vronsky. I feel like audiences will really relate to that, and go on this journey with the characters,” says Imogen.
A production of this scale also means Imogen and her colleagues will be reunited as a spirited community once again. The show is therefore also symbolic of reconnection; artists, creatives and technical staff will reunite physically and emotionally in striving to achieve a show with all the drama and sensory stimulation audiences have waited to so long to experience.
“As dancers we are going to be really thrilled to be able to look out into a full audience, and to feel the energy coming from them. Audiences have been missing the arts over the past few years, and I hope they will feel our excitement and energy performing for them," Imogen reflects.
Stage Manager Deb Whiteley is preparing for a very emotional night when the curtain opens on Anna Karenina in under a week. Following what she describes as the ‘heartbreak’ of seeing the production postponed in Melbourne last year, she anticipates a collective sensation of joy shared by both the company and the audience.
“I’m always nervous prior to opening night for any show. There’ll be lots of emotions for Anna Karenina. I think it will feel like a new beginning, and hopefully, also an end to all the mess of the past few years,” says Deb.
Deb wears many hats in her role, but her main responsibility is to fulfil the creatives’ vision in ensuring the show is executed to the highest standard. Deb and her team were only starting to envision how Anna Karenina would come together in 2020 based on some notes from the Joffrey Ballet when suddenly…’the world stopped’.
“The Stage Management team spent a lot of the lockdown period generating paperwork for the show, but it was kind of in a vacuum. We had no concept of how it felt to put the show on. 2020 for us was kind of a ‘theoretical year'. 2021 was the year we got up to opening night in Melbourne, but we didn’t do a season. We finally got to do our first season in Adelaide, and it was incredible to actually see it on stage. It’s so great to finally be having proper seasons in Melbourne and Sydney,” she says.
A technically complex show featuring live projections, major scenes changes and a live Mezzo-Soprano, Deb notes that Anna Karenina is such a powerful spectacle because it captures real human emotions and passions, themes we can all relate to.
“I think it’s a really incredible piece of theatre. The scenery is amazing, the costumes are stunning, there’s so much emotion from the dancers, the music is fantastic…it’s the whole package. Anna Karenina isn’t a fairy ballet, the show is realistic, it’s about people and emotions."
Director of Technical Production
The Australian Ballet’s technical maestro since 2015, Jon Buswell has navigated his fair share of challenges when it comes to planning technically seamless productions. Nothing quite like Anna Karenina, though. Jon oversees The Australian Ballet's technical team, as well as the costume department, noting the importance of remaining agile and adaptable over the past three years with a ‘show must go on’ attitude.
“Anna Karenina is symbolic of all the shows we’ve got in a way, because it’s the one that has always been right at the edge of being performed, and then it has been stopped. When this happens, we have to pivot and plan for something else. We put it on a hiatus while we focussed our attention on other shows because there’s so much going on in the company,” says Jon.
Reflecting Deb Whiteley’s comments about the technical complexity of the show, Jon and his team are now triple-checking all the production’s defining technical elements – projections, live music, dramatic lighting and period costumes – are all in seamless harmony. In expert hands of Jon and his team, the rewards for staging an ambitious work like Anna Karenina are immense for both the company and the audience.
“Every opportunity to perform to an audience is precious because it’s no longer routine. It’s something we really try hard to do, and when we pull it off, it's magic. It has been a particularly long wait for Anna Karenina, and I think this production will help audiences reconnect with the power of live theatre,” he says.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Don't miss out experiencing all the drama and cinematic grandeur of Anna Karenina. Click HERE to book your tickets and become part of this artistic spectacle that has been three-years in the making.