By Norm Robins
A woman named Anna Anderson surfaced in 1922 claiming she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of the storied lovers Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. It was a great story, and the press lapped it up as did their public. After a suicide attempt in 1920 Anderson was committed to a mental institution in Berlin. When she died in 1984 her DNA was tested. It showed it was all a hoax and Anderson was an imposter. She was a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska who had a history of mental illness. But it wasn’t a scam. It was Anderson deluding herself. This is the story of both her and the Anastasia she purported to be danced sublimely by Britain’s Royal Ballet. It is a great story, a great ballet, and even greater theater.
Act I is performed on the royal yacht the Standart, the largest royal yacht in the world. Young Anastasia frolics on deck with family and sailors. Act II takes place in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Again, Anastasia is a happy youngster enjoying her youth and the opulence surrounding her.
But there is trouble afoot. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Some people are so poor they can conceptualize God only as a loaf of bread.” That describes the Russian proletariat at the time. It has also been said the capacity of the Russian people for suffering is infinite. That’s wrong. It’s huge but not infinite. We see poor Russian people dancing woefully in rags and tatters while a barrelful of rifles cross the stage. A red flag follows, not the double-headed eagle flag of the Romanovs. Their suffering is clear in their dancing. Provocateurs are passing out revolutionary handbills. Rifles are handed out, and the revolution is on. We see cheerful Russian folk dances. They look more like a performance of the Moiseyev folk ballet than the Royal Ballet. The proletariat is on the move, armed, united and angry.
Act III is one of the best performances of great dancing and even greater acting, unusual for a ballet. It takes place in a mental institution with Anastasia/Anna having snapped, dancing and acting her fantasies. Anastasia/Anna is danced and acted by Natalia Osipova. Her performance takes your breath away. The grey eminence behind the throne, the peasant priest and Svengali Rasputin is danced beautifully by Thiago Soares.
This is a ballet not to be missed. The Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Ballets had better watch out. There is new competition on the world stage, and it is good. This can be viewed on YouTube through May 28th at
Don’t miss it.