Kenneth MacMillan’s Anastasia started life as a one Act ballet. Several years later he expanded it to three acts, the original becoming the final section – Anna Anderson (a real person who believed herself to be Grand Duchess Anastasia) in an asylum, haunted by Rasputin’s menacing figure, constantly bothered by visitors either accepting her or rejecting her. The two preceeding acts are in stark contrast to this sparse, claustrophobic scene. They attempt to give context to the final act – portraying the hazy constructed memories of Anderson as Anastasia. The fact these are meant to be recollections is not immediately obvious, only subtle design choices hint at their fabrication.
Act one shows the happy royals enjoying a picnic on their yacht, oblivious to the bloody fate that awaits them. From the marketing of the piece it was something of a surprise that it opened with such a bright, light-hearted feel. It closes with the news of the outbreak of war – a fact the audience could be forgiven for missing due to the underwhelming response of the Tsar. Not quite the gritty, psychological drama at this point, but nonetheless a really rather enjoyable start to the evening.
Act two is again seemingly about the royal family enjoying their wealth, holding a ball at the palace, and very little to do with Anastasia who is supposedly the crux of the ballet. It is only when you realise that these scenes are constructions of her imagination that she seems present beyond the third Act. The lavishness of the ball is interspersed with revolutionaries planning their attack and the curtain falls after the death of the royal family. The characters fail to have distinct personalities and although the typical flag waving revolutionaries make a dramatic sight there is not much depth.
Act three is drastically different in design and choreography. Cuthbertson plays the tormented Anderson with great energy and emotion as she dashes around the stage, desperately trying to regain some sense of her own identity. The repeated appearance of silent, gun wielding revolutionaries and the seemingly endless stream of characters clearly disturb her and it is difficult to watch the fracturing of a mind. The closing Act is by far the most powerful, let down somewhat by her final, strange, procession around the stage on an unfortunately noisy motorized bed.
MacMillan’s fascination with the real Anderson does not translate into his best work but it is an enjoyable, occasionally dramatic few hours of dance. The desire to add context to the third Act is understandable but for a first time viewer does not aid comprehension and can feel frustrating when such an intriguing story is promised. Nonetheless, the range of style means audiences who have a soft spot either for pretty, more regal narrative ballets, or those who prefer something more modern and dark can both find something of pleasure within. Flawed but undeniably enjoyable, I for one am glad that the Royal Ballet decided to revive this lesser known of MacMillan’s ballets.