The return of Anyuta


Not until the very beginning of the end of the Soviet era did domestic television particularly spoil the audience with a variety of programmes and genres. That is why something that really attracted attention became even more swiftly etched into the memory, especially since it was stimulated by frequent repetitions that no one dared to miss. The sounds of Gavrilin’s sparkling Tarantella made everyone rush to the screens in the hope of seeing the incredible, inimitable charismatic dance of Ekaterina Maximova once again.

The TV ballet Anyuta, which appeared on screens in 1982, was extremely successful amongst the audience and was soon endorsed by professional awards. That same year, the film received the Intervision prize at the International TV Film Festival Zlata Praga and in 1984 was given a State Prize of the RSFSR named after the Vasiliev brothers.

Thanks to this unprecedented success, the course of things changed its traditional order: usually popular performances were filmed, but in this case a fortunate screen adaptation found its way on to the stage!

The first outing of Anyuta took place in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo on the 21st January 1986, but less than six months later, on the 31st of May, the premiere was held at the Bolshoi Theatre.

To make such a transformation possible, an enormous amount of additional work was done to this ballet. On screen Anyuta had an abundance of close ups with a widely used principal of “video editing choreography” which was developed by choreographer and director Vladimir Vasiliev and Alexander Belinsky, co-director and author of the libretto. Valery Gavrilin never wrote a ballet called Anyuta. The music was collected from the pieces he had composed earlier. The stage full-length version, which by definition was to become longer than its on-screen predecessor, received the additional music together with the new scenes and new ‘faces’. For instance, there were now three gypsies who constantly interfered in the endless boulevard promenading of a string of various characters that marked the monotonous structure of daily life in a small provincial town, captured in Chekhov’s story. However, the monotonous everyday life in the performance is the responsibility of the corps de ballet, who absorbed episodic characters with their special features and bright acting personalities.

In fact, the performers of the leading parts had an opportunity to fully display their acting talents: a charming fragile lead female character – Ekaterina Maximova, a touchingly defenceless Pyotr Leontievich, her father – Vladimir Vasiliev, a 'cog' in the mechanized state machine, an offical devoted to Domostroy values and the most desperate sycophant and lickspittle, Anyuta’s husband Modest Alekseyevich – Gali Abajdulov (San Carlo), Mikhail Tsivin (Bolshoi), a dashing ladies' man Artynov – Mikhail Lavrovsky, and a shrewd, His Excellency – Alexander Greshchenko (Bolshoi). The student, who was absent in Chekhov’s story, was introduced into the circle of the main characters both on the screen and on the stage – a lyrical hero, to whom the heroine was connected by genuine emotion and who ensured the presence of such an important component of a ballet performance as a love adagio. At the premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre this part was danced by Valery Anisimov.

Chekhov’s intonation of hopelessness that served as a precise merciless accompaniment to the story of how the everyday hustle and bustle and vulgarity strike a fragile soul and make it sacrifice its living human feelings to tawdry joy, having been translated into the music by Gavrilin and choreography by Vasiliev, became softer and acquired a shade of light sadness. The fact that the authors are lenient towards the weaknesses of the heroine and, to certain extent, empathize with her, is shown in the title of the opus: Anna on the Neck transformed into Anyuta.

At the same time, the image of 'Anna on the Neck' – an order that is so desired by Modest Alekseyevich, is present in the design of the production. It is in a hypertrophied form, of a gigantic size, with a living Anna, embodied in the 'real' Anyuta. This order, as well as the intricate provincial interiors and simple Central Russian landscapes with their “pleading beauty”, were realised by Bella Manevich (1922– 2002), a splendid artist who worked in theatre (for example, at the Theatre for Young Audience and the Akimov Theatre in St Petersburg) but primarily worked in film. By the time A. Belinsky invited her to join the creative team of the TV ballet, she had designed dozens of films, including those adored by the nation and also based on Chekhov’s works. As a rule, she worked in tandem with her husband, Isaac Kaplan. The case of Anyuta became an exception and the first experience of work on a screen adaptation of a ballet that would then be transferred on to the stage.

Manevich was distinguished by her utmost attention to detail and her desire to ensure that the authenticity of the action would not break against the cardboard and plywood conventionality of the sets she built. A thorough development of the character’s nature, their individual choreographic language, which was thought through by V. Vasiliev, found a suitable embodiment in simplicity, lyricism, swiftness and at the same time, in the depth of the music by a “modern Mussorgsky”, Gavrilin (a definition by G. Sviridov) as well as in the costumes and set design created by Manevich. (She said she had taken the decision to work on the film White Sun of the Desert when she came across this line in the script “A Red Army soldier Sukhov walked along the hypotenuse”. We should not be surprised that she was engrossed by the work on this ballet with its catheti and and hypotenuses of movements!)

Anyuta toured around the stages of various cities in Russia (and beyond). When B. Manevich passed away, the production team of the ballet was joined by Viktor Volsky, who carefully preserved the spirit of the original and inscribed his own 'letters' and 'phrases' in it.

According to Vladimir Vasiliev, that which is most valuable in the music by Gavrilin (and music is always a starting point in his productions) is its simplicity of great art. This definition can be completely and fully related to its choreographic realisation, as well as reflecting its spirit and nature.

Over the decades that the ballet was shown on the stage at the Bolshoi Theatre, it introduced the audience to a magnificent host of Anyutas, His Excellencies, Modests and Pyotr Leontieviches. Not only was the production sincerely loved by the audience, but also the performers who would always willingly be cast in it.

The first performances of this year’s full-scale renewal – to be held on the 14th and 15th of July, will see the participation of the leading artists of the troupe.