I’ve never wished for evil to triumph but in the recent Royal Opera House Muscat presentation of Anastasia performed by the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus, the villains’ performances were so hypnotic I would have sided with them easily to tramp on the endearing eponymous character Anastasia.
The scene-stealer of the night, as far as the performance of February 4 went, was Aleksandra Chizhik in her role as Zaira, the back-stabbing (literally) ebony-haired princess who was definitely pushed to ultimate villainy by envy and spite for the well-liked Anastasia who seemed to easily capture the heart of powerful men surrounding her.
This version of Anastasia, performed masterfully on stage as a ballet, is not the Disney version you would have loved growing up. As far as this story goes, Anastasia fell in love with Prince Mikhail Glinksi when they were young but as most love stories go, he had to leave and so enter the prince of Stulsk, Simeon Olelkovich who Anastasia will end up loving and marrying.
After many years, Prince Mikhail eventually returns accompanied by the Tatar Khan Ahmed and his daughter Zaira, who is head-over-heels Prince Mikhail. Mikhail realised that he still adored Anastasia and long story short, after a series of duels and single-combat originally intended as a form of entertainment, egos were bruised and resentment grew that the Tatar guests decided they had to wipe out Anastasia and the Stulsks in a battle that ended with Prince Simeon dead (thanks to the backstabbing Zaira) and Anastasia becoming the war prize for the Khan.
Prince Mikhael will end up setting Anastasia free to the displeasure of the Tatar King. Khan Ahmed, still upset about Anastasia’s return to her kingdom then tried to forge an alliance only to be turned down angering him even more. He would eventually declare another war and with no hope of having anyone to stand for her people, Anastasia would lead them to battle defeating only the Tatars thanks to the change of heart of Prince Mikhail who helped Anastasia out despite her constant turning down of the love he offered.
On the musical side, with the composition of Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, the pioneer of avant-garde among Belarusian composers, and Conductor Nikolai Koliadko at the helm of nearly 50-musician strong Orchestra Minsk, it was a wild ride of emotions that rightfully captivate every moment — menacing and scary during the battle scenes and heartbreaking on some tender moments.
The choreography of versatile and intellectual Yury Trayan was given justice by the principal characters from the graceful, perfectly cast Victoryia Trenkina in her role as Anastasia, Oleg Eromkin as Mikhail, Anton Kravchenko as Simeon, and Konstantin Geronik as Ahmed. The combined experiences of these dancers make you forget that there was no dialogue and it was only their performances that clearly narrated where the story was heading. The different moves, whether they are doing an arabesque, plié or pirouette, were astoundingly executed that nothing distracts you from the plot, speaking volumes of why Bolshoi Belarus is a Unesco commemorative medal awardee by Unesco.
While the principals hold their own ground performing as strongly as everyone else, it was Chizhik’s Zaira who got elevated as she was delicious to watch as a character having the sass and authentic evilness the character demanded.
There were numerous things to clap about this production. The war scenes effectively used the overlapping images of the horses and the battles which effectively showcased the chaos caused by war. The costume designs also had their wow moments and the contrast between the purity of the Stulsk and the menacing character of the Tatars beautifully played out with the overwhelming use of white and red.
While there was little to complain about, overall, I personally felt that the set design could have gone a little better. There were some elements on the stage that was static all throughout particularly the wall panels painted with faces. The duels also could have used more reactions from the other cast while the principals were giving their all-out performance. Minuscule but more engaged movements while a raging duel was ongoing would have resulted in the audience getting just as excited as the fight scene happening on the stage.
These observations can be answered however by the fact that we are still in the middle of the pandemic and it’s possible that many of the performances had to remain low-key as production houses are not able to bring all their required manpower at this time. Suffice to say, Anastasia was an amazing start as a ballet production to a season full of mouth-gaping lined up performances.