Tolstoy, Plus Choreography

November 15, 2012

Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina hits select theaters today. While you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about its stars—particularly Keira Knightly’s powerful performance in the title role—you may not have heard that it also has some serious dance cred.

The story of a 19th-century Russian adultress who commits suicide by throwing herself under a train doesn’t exactly exactly cry out for choreography. (Even the fabulous Alexei Ratmansky had a hard time making a ballet version of Anna Karenina—it met with uncharacteristically mixed reviews.) But Wright’s version is darkly theatrical, and I mean that literally. It’s set in a dilapidated theater, with action happening both onstage and in the wings. In that context, dance seems a bit more natural.

Wright called in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a European darling who’s made works for the likes of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, to choreograph Anna Karenina. You won’t see anything as dramatic as pointe work, but his dances are central to the movie. Anna even first meets her lover Count Vronsky on the dance floor, in a swirling, heady sequence.

Gorgeous Alicia Vikander, who plays Princess Kitty Shcherbatskaya, studied for 10 years at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, and it shows. While some of the other actors seemed to struggle a bit with the more involved dance sequences (Knightley included, unfortunately), she’s perfectly comfortable with all the waltzing and swooping lifts. She also apparently worked with Cherkaoui to refine the choreography.

The film is an interesting experiment, and while it’s not always successful, it’s definitely worth seeing. (Plus the costumes are to. die. for. Nothing makes a dance sparkle quite like Chanel jewelry!)

Get a sneak peek at all the glamorous drama in the trailer below.