Anastasia

          Mara's Point of View - Act I

Anastasia is made up of three acts. Originally, in 1967, only the third act had been created for the well-known ballerina Lynn Seymour, one of MacMillan's most loved dancers. He created several roles for her (Romeo and Juliet, for example).

The main character in the third act is Anna Anderson, the woman who believed she was Anastasia; in the first two acts, instead, the protagonist is the Grand Duchess Anastasia.

I danced both Anastasia/Anna Anderson and the pas de deux of Mathilde Kschessinska.

Act I
It's set on a boat. Anastasia makes her entrance on stage for the first time wearing rollerskates, supported by an officer: you can normally skate even with pointe shoes, because it isn't particularly uncomfortable, but in this case help from a partner is preferable and often necessary.

In this act the choreography is based on the girl's, her brother's and officer's play and pastimes. The atmosphere is party-like and the steps are very complicated. There aren't modern steps, but only classical ones, even if not exactly pure: the three bathers and the officers make very technical steps (flick-flacks and cabrioles, jumps and turns); Anastasia performs very rapid steps, that let the audience understand the playful, sweet but stubborn, and even tomboy girl's personality. There's also a slower part: the one with the handkerchief game with the mother, where the rhythm is slow and mazurka steps are used.

In Anastasia's solo, the upper part of the body is extremely involved: the great arm-work is peculiar in MacMillan's choreographies.

Kenneth plays with the music a great deal and uses it to show up the character's personality, making them move and express themselves in very different ways.

          Mara's Point of View - Act II

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The setting for this act is a party at the Imperial Palace, during which Anastasia takes part in a ball for the very first time.

The corps de ballet enters dancing polonaise steps melded with classical ones. Afterwards, there is a pas de trois by the Czar, the Empress and Rasputin and a pas de quatre with Mathilde Kschessinska, her partner, the Czar and the Empress, where, through choreographic motions the complicated relationships between these real people is clarified.

The most technically difficult part in this act is the pas de deux danced by the ballerina (Mathilde Kschessinska) and her partner. It's the only piece in the ballet in which the costume is the typical tutu. The steps are purely classical and technical, but one can notice how the upper part of the body is used to the extreme: we mustn't forget that is a ballet by Kenneth MacMillan. Anyway, the style is very Russian (because Mathilda is a real Russian ballerina).

The remainder of this act is a mazurka and in the last part everybody keeps on dancing, while the revolution is breaking out.

          Mara's Point of View - Act III

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This is the most important act. Anna Anderson moves uninterruptedly for 35 minutes: it's an energetic and involving dance, that empties you physically and psychologically.

The music is very complicated: it's extremely hard to feel and keep the rhythm. The steps are an endless battle, they require great energy and strength and are very difficult, especially the pas de deux with Rasputin and her husband. The positions are neoclassical and are neither graceful nor nice: they mark Anastasia's madness and grief.

One of the most complicated pas de deux is the one with the child and the husband because, having the son in the arms, she can't use the hands to dance with the partner.

Anna is a character that impressed me very much emotionally and influenced me even in everyday life: I wasn't able to get her out of my head or completely go out of the character. It was quite a weird period for me.

This character made me grow and become complete as an artist, because it's very true to life: the emotions of childhood and the sorrows of the adult age are involved, it's extremely realistic. In the third act, feelings and episodes which are part of the life of a woman are told. Kenneth has managed to create all these things by listening to the music and finding in it Anna Anderson's pain and life and transforming it into choreography.

          The Ballet

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Kenneth MacMillan created Anastasia, for Lynn Seymour, as a one-act ballet in 1967 for the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Bohuslav Martinu's Fantasies Symphoniques are introduced by electronic music especially composed. The work was extended to a full-length ballet in 1971, with the addiction of the first two acts, created on Tchaikovsky scores (Symphony No. 1, opus 13, "Winter Dreams" in Act I and Symphony No. 3, opus 29, "The Polish" in Act II). Also in the new ballet, Anastasia's role was created by Lynn Seymour and the world premiere was at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on July 22nd 1971.

The third act was defined as "expressionist" and sinks into the protagonist's deranged mind allowing the audience to share her anguishes and nightmares, running through, with the help of flash-backs, the life of the woman, with both the identity of Anastasia and Anna Anderson. The two acts added in a second time go back to the first years of Anastasia's life, from the childhood to the youth, ending with the Bolshevik revolution outbreak. Here the dance is more conventional, this, together with a weak narrative structure, scarcely correlated to the choreography, gives a sense of dishomogeneity to the work as a whole, so that the two acts seem just a prologue to the third one that remains the fulcrum of the ballet.

          Synopsis - Act I

The Standard, August 1914
Tsar Nicholas II's family is having a cruise on the imperial yacht. Anastasia enters skating happily with the help of two officers. The cruise goes on with joyful recreations and recollections of family situations (Tsarevich Alexei's haemophilia is mentioned: he, after an incident, is assisted by the guru Rasputin), to the dramatic end with the announcement of the Russian entry into the First World War. Rasputin prays and blesses the present company and the Tsar and Tsarevich inspect the proud troops. The act of Anastasia's innocent and happy childhood is a "white" act: the majority of the characters are dressed in this colour.

          Synopsis - Act II

Pietrograd, March 1917

Act II, with a "golden" colour, as if to underline the young Anastasia's coming out in society and into adult life, takes place during a party. Among the guests is Mathilde Kschessinska, former prima ballerina assoluta in the Marijinky theatre and the Tsar's mistress, she delights the other guests dancing with her partner.

Outside the happy island of the imperial court, the world is fighting and in Russia ferments of riots are growing day by day: to remember it, Rasputin's ghost (he has been murdered a few months before) appears. The party is roughly and tragically ended by the revolutionaries breaking into the hall.

           Synopsis - Act III

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After the childhood white act and the golden one of the sparkling youth, the third act changes completely in tone and colour: its grey as the despair, the pain, the loneliness and the madness of Anastasia / Anna Anderson.

We pass abruptly from the Tchaikovsky music to the Martinu one, accompanied by anguishing electronic pieces. The scene is dominated by Anna Anderson/Anastasia's hospital bed and starts with Anastasia watching old films, with two nurses: would viewing herself and her family again awake her memory? Somehow yes: her mind is peopled by visions of her past life, both as Anastasia (the mother comes into her head, and her sisters and brother, the father, Rasputin …) and as Anna too (here are the husband and the son), in a vortex of anguish and despair.

The dominant grey colour, the bare scene and the protagonist's troubled dance give us entirely the sense of her madness coupled to her loneliness: in Anna's life (in reality, this was not her true name) these are not people, but just ghosts from the past, that sometimes become nightmares.

          Curiosity

Act III and Anastasia's madness grey colour is the same colour that Neumeier will choose some year later to paint Nijinsky's madness and this is not the only contact point between the two ballets, still really different.

          Characters - Mathilda Maria Felixovna Kschessinska

Mathilda Maria Felixovna Kschessinska
(Ligovo, 31st August 1872 - Paris, 6th December 1971)

Daughter of a Polish character dancer, she got (on 23rd March 1890) a First-class degree at the Imperial Theatre Ballet School in St. Petersburg, where she studied under the teaching of Lev Ivanov, Enrico Cecchetti and Christian Johansson. In 1889 she had already made her debut at the Opening Gala of the Bolshoj Theatre. Her official debut at the Marijinsky Theatre took place on 1st June 1890. In 1892 she became 'ballerina', in 1893 'prima ballerina' (first soloist) and in 1895 'prima ballerina assoluta' (principal dancer).

With her virtuoso technique (she was the first Russian dancer to perform 32 fouettées) and her great expressive ability (especially in demi-caractère roles, such as Kitri and Esmeralda), she created principal roles in Marius Petipa's ballets Le Reveil de Flore (1894), Les Saisons (1900), Les Millions d'Arlequin (1900), Les élèves de Monsieur Dupré (1900), The Magic Mirror (1903), in Le Fleur Rouge Sang (1907) by Nicolaj Legat and the role of Kitri in Alexander Gorsky's new version of Don Quixote (1900).On 14th November 1911 she danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Sleeping Beauty, making her debut with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

In 1920 she definitively left Russia and went to live in France where, in 1921, she morganatically married Grand Duke Alexej Vladimirovich of Russia, met in 1900; she had previously been czar Nicholas II's (then zarevich Nicolaj) mistress. In 1925 she restaged Swan Lake, featuring Alicia Markova in Act II and Vera Nemchinova in Act III. In 1929 she opened a dance school in Paris.

She danced for the last time in 1936 at Covent Garden in London, in a charity gala. She published a book: Souvenirs de la Kschessinska in 1970.

          Characters - Nicholas II

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Nicholas II Romanov was crowned czar in 1894; his reign started under bad auspices: during the coronation party, about 1500 people died, swept away and crushed by the crowd. He married the German Alice of Hesse, who took the name Alexandra Fedorovna,and had five children (Olga, Tatjana, Marja, Anastasia, Aleksej) with her.

After a period of economic prosperity, signed by a commercial increase and modernization of the Country, military defeats in the expansionist war against Japan caused, in 1905, a protest held by workers and peasants. The brutal and dramatic repression (causing hundreds of deaths) did not succeed in appeasing the protestants' intentions so, strikes and revolts forced Nicholas II to grant some constitutional liberties and to start some reforms, such as the institution of a legislative assembly (Duma). The new industrial proletariat and the intellectuals, who were about to form new political movements, did not think this was enough.

The continual bloody repression of revolts and strikes and the disastrous engagement in the World War I (Russian soldiers had bad equipments and were controlled by an inefficient leadership and, consequently, millions among them died) increased hardship and social contrasts; a plot of Duma deputies and imperial aristocracy tried to stem the disaster by murdering Rasputin, the depraved monk, well-known healer and seer, who was believed to have a bad influence on the weak and insecure czar. But the murder of the monk, in 1916, couldn't avert the anti-czarist revolution, which broke out in 1917.

Nicholas II abdicated on 2nd March and was imprisoned in the house of the merchant Ipateev, in Ekaterinburg, where he was killed with his wife and sons in the night between 16th and 17th July. Their bodies were dissolved by using acid and secretly buried in a common grave in the woods. They were disinterred in 1991 and solemnly buried in 1998 near the other Romanov in St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, in St. Petersburg.

Forgetting faults, weaknesses and authoritarianism of the last czar, the Orthodox Church canonized him with his wife and sons, as a martyr of the Soviet tyranny, in 2000.

          Characters - Rasputin

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Grigorij Efimevic Rasputin was born in 1871 in Pokrovskoe, Siberia, where he grew up without an education. When he was 10, he fell down in a river, together with his brother Misha: the iced waters caused pneumonia to both of them. Misha died, Grisha survived thanks to, as he said, to a divine intervention: during his fever delirium the Holy Virgin appeared to him and he was suddenly healed. The boy got a big charisma, in particular among women: his sight was deep and magnetic, his language, even if simple, charmed and persuaded people who met him. When he was twenty, Rasputin got married to Praskovia Fedorovna Dubrovina; she gave him his first son, but he died only a few months after: the pain caused a second vision where the Virgin intimated him to leave everything and to go away. Rasputin became a starec (a sort of monk and walking prophet) and an adept of Khlysty sect, which thought the man could purify himself from the sin just abandoning himself to it and, through the following repentance, to rise to catharsis. Religion and flesh are equivocally linked in this heretic belief which has erotic rite and group sex among its main characteristics.

Rasputin spent a year in a convent (considering himself "monk" at all), then he went to Moscow, Kazan, Kiev, to came back finally at Pokrovskoe, where he found a personal church opposite to the official one. Even if orthodox priest accused him to practise Khlysty rites, he never admitted it and he always succeeded in defending himself. His fame began to grow more and more and he decided to leave for S. Petersburg, where he approached not only the high spheres of orthodox popes, but high society too.

Rasputin approached the Court in 1905, thanks to Tsarin Alexandra who, deprived of hope about her son Alexei's health, (he was sick with haemophilia), decided to address herself to this "saint" man with his strange powers, manifested during 'spirit' sittings and thanks to mysterious "recoveries". Rasputin's intervention seemed to help Alexei: the haemorrhage stopped. A prodigious event which could be explained by medicine or science was considered by Tsarin Alexandra as a real miracle which gave to Rasputin that trust which always helped him in avoiding police control on his incorrect behaviour.

Rasputin's success began to diminish when Russia entered in the First World War: a tenacious pacifist he tried to persuade Tsarin Alexandra (who had the power while Nicholas II was on the battle fields) to sign a peace treaty to save Russia. This position has been considered as an attempt to protect Germany, the Tsarin's home country: Rasputin and Alexandra began to be considered as spies and traitors.

Rasputin went on with his deplorable conduct, not only about sex, but because of suspected corruption too: a group of aristocrats decided to order his murder to free the royal family from his negative influence.

Prince Feliks Jussupov, who was among them, gained Rasputin's trust and invited him to his home, where he offered him poisoned sweets and wine from Madeira. The poison effects were slow and not sufficient, so the conspirators decided to solve the quest in another way: they shot him through the heart. However they didn't succeed: the monk managed to escape, but the conspirators finally killed him by breaking his skull. Rasputin's corpse was thrown in a channel where he was found a few days after. During his last months Rasputin often foretold his death, announcing it would have been the end of Imperial Russia: history confirmed his prophecy.

          Characters - Anastasia

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Grand Duchess Anastasia Nokolaievna was born on June 18th 1901, fourth of five daughters. She was a nice girl, with light brown hair and blue eyes, intelligent and lively, a lover of dogs and of playing tricks.

Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra really took care of their daughters and they always spent a lot of time with them. The five girls grew up simply, without luxury; the daughters slept in military beds. The sisters were very attached to each other and they took care of the youngest brother Alexei, a haemophiliac.

Anastasia conducted a happy existence with her family in Karskoe Selo Palace until her father's abdication (1917). She suddenly became a prisoner in the same palace, strictly guarded by soldiers. After a few months the family was transferred in Siberia, in Ekaterinburg, in merchant Ipateev's house, where, on June 18th 1918 she was killed, together with her relatives, by bayonet and rifle shots.

          Characters - Anna Anderson

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After the massacre in Ipateev's house, the bodies of the Romanovs were secretly buried but, very early, people started rumouring that someone of them had survived, in particular Anastasia. As the years passed, many presumed Anastasias appeared and the most famous among them was the mysterious Anna Anderson. 'Anna Anderson' was the name they used to call a woman who tried to commit suicide throwing herself from a bridge in Berlin on 17th February 1920. She had no documents and wasn't able, or didn't want, to reveal her own identity. She was admitted to a mental hospital, where people started supposing she was one of the Romanov Grand Duchesses: but at the beginning relatives and ladies-in-waiting denied this supposition. The woman reconstructed the events following the Ekaterinburg massacre: a soldier called Tchaikovsky noticed Anastasia was still alive and hid her, by escaping to Romania; the two of them married there and had a child, who was born after Tchaikovsky's death and left in an orphanage; the woman escaped to Berlin to look for her aunt Irene, but as she arrived there she decided to kill herself, being afraid that she wouldn't be recognized. Princess Irene met Anna and denied she was Anastasia, but her son Sigismund by asking her some questions 'recognized' his cousin. Opinions were conflicting among the other relatives, too: some of them reckoned they had eventually found Anastasia, others absolutely excluded it. The ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, Nicholas II's mistress before his marriage, thought she knew Anastasia: her eyes were very similar to Nicola's.

The Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, Anastasia's uncle, engaged a detective who identified the woman as Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish-born worker who disappeared a little time before Anna tried to commit suicide. In 1938 Anna brought an action to obtain the Romanov hereditary rights; the trial ended in 1970, when the Court House didn't deny Anna was Anastasia, but sentenced it wasn't able to prove it.

Several contradictory evidence, analyses and proofs were alleged but, anyway, the mystery wasn't solved. Many years after, the ultimate evidence was given by the disinterment of the bodies of Nicola and his family in 1991. By comparing their DNA with the Duke of Edinburgh's, whose Grandmother was Alexandra's sister, the imperial family was officially recognized. Anna Anderson's DNA (obtained from her intestinal tissue, drawn during a surgical operation and kept in an American hospital) was examined and they discovered that there were no connections with the Romanovs. Instead it was extremely similar to a relative of Franziska Schanzkowska's: the mystery was eventually solved.