I guess the third time was the charm for me with "Anna Karenina"--I can't say this ballet will ever be one of my favorites, but I got the performance I was looking for tonight with Ekaterina Kondaurova and Andrei Yermakov.
Though a lot of that might have to do with where I was sitting--on Mon and tonight, I was in the middle of the orchestra near the front and had a very clear view, whereas last night with Lopatkina I was almost at the very back. How different her performance might have been for me if I were seated closer!
However, the one drawback of sitting close--for me at least--is that the music is overpowering. I hated it on Monday; last night, from far away, it was more tolerable, but today, near the front, it was relentlessly dark again.
But the big difference between the prior performances and tonight for me was the Vronsky. To me personally, Andrei Yermakov totally looked the part--he was close to what I think of when I imagine the character in my mind's eye. Very handsome, and a bit boyish. In Act I he seemed somewhat infatuated with Kitty in a way that made me think of Romeo and Rosaline, before he meets Juliet. He looked like he was having fun flirting with her, but wow, when Kondaurova's Anna came in, he just had to have her. To me, he played his Vronsky with a kind of rash impulsiveness (a symptom of his youth), and I really felt like he might explode if he didn't get Anna. I think this worked especially well in the second act--I really felt like he was fighting, fighting, fighting to keep Anna; I believed his despair when he shot himself, and I could feel his frustration when he gave up on her.
In contrast, I had to stretch my imagination to think of Smekalov as Vronsky. At least he complemented Lopatkina well physically and in interpretation, but with Vishneva, I just couldn't really see him as her young lover, and they were definitely not on the same page with the interpretation. Also, Yermakov's technique seemed to be cleaner--his barrel turns were neatly landed, and his pirouettes were nicely centered.
Most of all, Yermakov had great chemistry with Kondaurova. And I loved her as Anna. To my eye, she played her Anna more like Vishneva's (or maybe it felt that way because I was sitting close again). She was a woman consumed by passion and then despair--but this time it worked because she had the chemistry with Vronsky and they were both extremely passionate/fiery. In the pas de deux that closes Act I, she ran straight up to Vronsky, and they just stood there, lip to lip. Here was the passionate release that I was hoping for on Monday! And at the end of the scene, Kondaurova played it very differently--Lopatkina's eyes suddenly widened like she realized "Oh god! What have I done!," whereas with Kondaurova, you could see the comprehension and dread slowly set in. Subtle, but very effective.
In Act II, it was the first time where I felt like Anna felt genuinely pained about hurting her husband. And I think that might be because Islom Baimuradov, who played her husband, is Kondaurova's off-stage husband as well. They had a very natural onstage rapport, and maybe it was because I knew they were married, but I felt like it added something to the ballet--I could see that she cared about him (and he for her), so it added dramatic weight to her dilemna. As YID pointed out to me, Baimuradov seemed gentler with her than the other Anna's--in the first scene in his study when she comes over to try to get him to dance, he kissed her on the cheek, and he didn't do that with the others.
I thought Kondaurova was fantastic in the final scene, and sitting so close with binoculars, I could see her taking these deep breaths in synch with the beat/rhythm of the train, and it was like you could see her heart hammering in synch with the train--very effective.
All in all, a great performance of an okay ballet. As I said before, it was the best one of the three for me, but I really wonder a) how different Monday's performance would have looked with Zverev and b) how different Wednesday's performance would have looked up-close. Ah well. It won't be the end of the world for me if I don't get to see this ballet again.
During the bows, Kondaurova made sure to bring out cute little Roman Surkov (Seryozha) out to take a bow, and once again I thought it was sweet. He's soo adorable!!