Japan Ballet Association is an association for ballet dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters in Japan and currently has 2,600 members across the nation. They hold an annual full length performance or Ballet Festival, and this year they performed Andre Prokovsky's Anna Karenina. Prokovsky, former star of London Festival Ballet and NYCB, created this version for Australian Ballet in 1979 and this has entered the repertoire of more than 20 ballet companies throughout the world. This is Japan Ballet Association's 3rd performance of this work since 1992.

Anna Karenina © Japan Ballet Association
Anna Karenina
© Japan Ballet Association

Recently, there have been several adaptations of Tolstoy's novel, including those by Alexei Ratmansky and Boris Eifman. Some of them have stripped away most of the sub-characters and reduced the story to its minimum. But here, Prokovsky is basically faithful to the plot and aims this ballet to be narrative, although focused to the two main characters. The costumes and sets designed by Peter Farmer are rented from the Australian Ballet. Although a little dated, they reflect the Russian Imperial fashion and its warm delicate colors create an epic atmosphere, especially of the Russian countryside and the change of the seasons. The score consists of several of Tchaikovsky's works carefully combined, including The Tempest.

Anna Karenina © Japan Ballet Association
Anna Karenina
© Japan Ballet Association

A huge train appears centre stage and Anna alights. The performance also ends with this train, looking like a sinister one-eyed monster as it terminates Anna's life. Anna is danced by Yurie Shimomura, one of Japan's most renowned ballerina actresses. Although she is in her mid-forties, the petite, slender Shimomura possesses the innocence of a young mother as well as the grace of a lady in high society. But when she meets Vronsky after the ice-skating party, her metamorphosis is clear. They turn into lovers within the fluid pas de deux consisted of many complicated lifts which sometimes reminds us of MacMillan works.

Dai Sasaki as Vronsky is a strong partner as well as a virtuoso dancer, and their partnership evolved thoughout their performance. As their passion grows we can feel Anna thrusting her way into her destruction through the choreography, especially with the attitude turns and bends. Shimomura's elegant arms and bent back express her strong desire for lust and her anguish. Her emotions accelerate in the ballroom duet, her feelings becoming apparent to everyone in the ball. Torn between her affection to her son Seryozha and lust for Vronsky, it is painful to watch her suffering gradually poisoning her out of her senses and leading her to the fatal train. Shimomura's strong acting quality displays the various emotions in Anna's path – she is capable of expressing even the subtlest moment of rapture or disappointment.

Anna Karenina © Japan Ballet Association
Anna Karenina
© Japan Ballet Association

Prokovsky was very clever in creating the structure of this ballet, inserting an eye-opening corps de ballet in the skating scene, the ballroom sequence, and the dance of the peasants on a grand scale. A standout was Masahiro Suehara, graduate of the School of American Ballet and former guest with New York City Ballet, who is short in build but performs show-stopping high leaps and stunning turns in the Russian pas de trois. The three happy young couples in the pas de six made a clear contrast to the vanity and ostentation of the noble society.

As the dancers are from different ballet companies, it was a pity that sometimes the acting did not work together as a whole, and the rejection to Anna appearing in the final ball scene was not strong enough to lead her towards death. But as a whole, the high standard of Japanese ballet was proved in the corps de ballet, who were so delightful to watch, and the two marvelous leads who made a lasting impression.