Saturday, February 18, 2023

REVIEW: YURI POSSOKHOV’S ANNA KARENINA Via The Joffrey Ballet February 15-26, 2023

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World premiere in 2019 praised for its original score and breathtaking, cinematic production by all-star creative team


By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

Posted on the Joffrey’s Website:

“Potential Protest Demonstration 

The Joffrey supports the right to freedom of expression.

Please be aware that there is a possibility of demonstrators protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the vicinity of the Lyric Opera House.”

Indeed, audience members approaching the Lyric Opera on Wednesday night February 15 were greeted by peaceful protestors bearing signs, the now-familiar yellow and blue flags of Ukraine, and even a couple effigies criticizing Russia. The Joffrey Ballet’s decision to stage Anna Karenina by Russian author Leo Tolstoy was viewed as a celebration of Russian culture while Ukraine is being decimated by the Russian invasion. 

The Joffrey Ballet is to be commended for how they handled the possibly inflammatory situation. An announcement was made before the show expressing support for the country of Ukraine. Lights projected on the Lyric stage were yellow and blue. The Lyric Opera Orchestra played a beautiful symphonic piece by a Ukrainian composer to honor the Ukrainian people. 

Despite politics, art endures. 

Victoria Jaiani Alberto Velazquez Anais Bueno ensemble 
Anna Karenina 
All Production Photos by Cheryl Mann 

The ballet, choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, was stunning. The costumes by Tom Pye were beautiful. The projections by Finn Ross also added a lot of context to the production. The results are magical. 

Edson Barbosa

The tragic story of Anna and her lover, Count Vronsky, cannot end happily. Young Princess Kitty loves Vronsky, but he is obviously smitten by Anna. Family friend Constantine Levin does love Kitty, but she wants the emotionally unavailable Vronsky. (At this point, I am reminded of a love triangle that currently exists among the high school teenagers I teach, and my head hurts…)  Anna is already married to Alexey Karenin with whom she shares a son. She and Vronsky run away to Italy where Anna gets very ill.  Her husband is not allowing her to see their son anymore. Kitty accepts Levin’s latest proposal, so there is that. Anna throws herself (spoiler of a novel written in 1878!) in front of a train. What a drama queen…

Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez

My favorite quote of the evening was my friend’s mother-in-law who observed, on all the movement happening in the bed at one point,”Oh, I know what was going on there.”   ;-)

The leads were spectacular. Anna Karenina was beautifully played by Victoria Jaiani. The rejected-but-gorgeous Alexey Karenin was danced by Dylan Gutierrez. Adorable and hot Alberto Velazquez was Alexey Vronsky.  Anais Bueno was a lovely Kitty.  Konstatin Levin was danced by Yoshihisa Arai, who was also the Nutcracker Prince we saw in December. I just love the diverse roster of dancers assembled by Joffrey from all over the world. It makes me so happy to see this talented assembly of artists. 

Christine Rocas and Ensemble

Politics may divide us, unfortunately. 

But art and beauty bring us together.

Catherine Hellmann is a teacher, mom, and art lover. She visited Russia in 2003 through an educator program and loved the people and culture in Vyborg, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Russia has a very special place in her heart. The current events in Ukraine are infuriating and sorrowful.  

This winter, The Joffrey Ballet remounts Yuri Possokhov’s blockbuster Anna Karenina for the first time since its crowd-pleasing world premiere in 2019. Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, Possokhov’s immersive adaptation—winner of the 2019 “Oscars of Dance” Benois de la Danse International Prize for Best Choreography—features an original composition by award-winning composer Ilya Demutsky, costumes and sets by Emmy Award-winning designer Tom Pye, and lighting by famed designer David Finn. Anna Karenina will be presented at the historic Lyric Opera House, 20 North Upper Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago, in ten performances only, from February 15-26, 2023.

Alberto Velazquez and ensemble

Love is all-consuming for the beautiful but married Anna, who in the pursuit of passion, finds herself caught in a life-changing affair with the dashing Count Vronsky. Set in the late 19th century, Tolstoy’s classic shows the triumph of romance, family, and faith against a backdrop of fraught political and social transformation. 

Alberto Velazquez and ensemble

Victoria Jaiani Alberto Velazquez 

With countless adaptations across ballet, theatre, opera, and film, Anna Karenina is often considered the earliest example of modernist literature and one of the greatest works of literature in history. Possokhov’s immersive adaptation updates the timeless story for contemporary audiences with its captivating choreography, stunning costume design, and cinematic storytelling that unravels the profound power, passion, and desire that shapes the 19th century novel.

The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet Ashley Wheater MBE says, “Anna Karenina is a powerful universal love story animated by the highs and lows of human emotion. I am especially grateful to partner again with esteemed choreographer Yuri Possokhov to remount a multi-dimensional production that touched audiences across Chicago and beyond with its immersive artistry.” 

Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez

The Joffrey Ballet President and CEO Greg Cameron adds, "The 2022-23 season represents the breadth of Joffrey's artistry, from the original work presented by Chanel DaSilva in Beyond Borders, to the modern masterpiece that is Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker, to the remount of Yuri Possokhov's blockbuster Anna Karenina--an all-time classic set to an original score. Following a record-breaking return to pre-pandemic attendance with The Nutcracker, we look forward to welcoming audiences back to the iconic Lyric Opera House this winter. Not only will guests experience Anna Karenina's story that has transcended the ages; they will witness the transformative power and innovation on which the Joffrey was founded."

Known for his visceral and expressive style, Possokhov has created groundbreaking new works around the globe. A frequent guest artist with The Joffrey Ballet, Possokhov is internationally recognized for transforming iconic literature into inventive, emotionally driven story ballets. Possokhov choreographed the world premiere adaptation of Anna Karenina for The Joffrey Ballet in 2019 to critical acclaim. In addition to Anna Karenina, Possokhov’s collaborations with The Joffrey Ballet include Bells (2014), The Miraculous Mandarin (2017), and Don Quixote (2011, 2022).

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez

Anna Karenina features live music performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet. 

Special thanks to Presenting and Commissioning Sponsor Mr. and Mrs. Joel V. Williamson, Major and Commissioning Sponsor Mary Jo and Doug Basler, and Major Sponsor The Women’s Board of The Joffrey Ballet.

Victoria Jaiani 

Ticket information
The Joffrey Ballet performs Anna Karenina from Wednesday, February 15 to Sunday, February 26, 2023, at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Upper Wacker Drive. The full schedule is as follows: Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30PM; Friday, February 17 at 7:30PM; Saturday, February 18 at 2:00PM and 7:30 PM; Sunday, February 19 at 2:00 PM; Thursday, February 23 at 7:30PM; Friday, February 24 at 7:30PM; Saturday, February 25 at 2:00PM and 7:30PM; and Sunday, February 26 at 2:00PM.

Single tickets start at $36 and are available for purchase at Lyric Opera Box Office located at 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez

Anna Karenina Tour
Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina travels to the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. from April 5 to April 9, 2023. For the full schedule, visit

Edson Barbosa and Ensemble

About The Joffrey Ballet
The Joffrey Ballet is one of the premier dance companies in the world today, with a reputation for boundary-breaking performances for more than 60 years. The Joffrey repertoire is an extensive collection of all-time classics, modern masterpieces, and original works. 

Founded in 1956 by pioneers Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey remains dedicated to artistic expression, innovation, and first-rate education and engagement programming. The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE and President and CEO Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of its 2022–2023 Season Sponsors: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, The Florian Fund, Anne L. Kaplan, Nancy and Sanfred Koltun, and Live Music Sponsors Sandy and Roger Deromedi, Sage Foundation, and The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music. The Joffrey also acknowledges Season Partners Chicago Athletic Clubs, and Athletico Physical Therapy, official provider of physical therapy for The Joffrey Ballet.

With gratitude to Anna Karenina Commissioning Sponsors: Producing Sponsors Margot and Josef Lakonishok and NIB Foundation; Major Sponsors Lorna Ferguson and Terry Clark, Nancy and Sanfred Koltun, Mr. and Mrs. Joel V. Williamson, The Walter E. Heller Foundation, JHL Capital Group, Jane Ellen Murray Foundation, Diane and John Patience, Poetry Foundation, Rudolf Nureyev Fund at The Joffrey Ballet; and Sponsors Mary Jo and Doug Basler, Ethel and William Gofen, Bill and Orli Staley Foundation, and the Australian Consulate-General in Chicago.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit Connect with the Joffrey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Nicole Ciapponi and ensemble

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