#Throwback Thursday: Anastasia

Today's #Throwback Thursday, inspired by the sneak peeks the Royal Ballet gave us on World Ballet Day, is Anastasia. This is not the 1992 version inspired by The Sleeping Beauty, but the older version by famous choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan.

Leanne Benjamin as Anastasia

The ballet tells the story of Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Imperial family were executed, but many believed that Anastasia, the youngest sister, had escaped. Anderson spent some time in a German mental asylum in 1920, where the ballet places her.

Laura Helm as Anastasia

The first two acts cover Anastasia's life before the Revolution, following her privileged life at court through the First World War and the Revolution until the deaths of the Romanovs. Act III then switches to the asylum, where Anderson is shown going slowly mad. She has nightmares of the massacre of the Romanovs, and recalls her rescue, the death of her husband, the disappearance of her child and her own attempted suicide, up until she was found in Berlin in 1920.

Lynn Seymour as Anastasia in 1971

MacMillan's ballet leaves the audience to decide for themselves if Anderson's claims are true. In fact, after MacMillan's death, a DNA test proved that Anderson was not related to the Russian Imperial family, and in 2007, the bodies of the missing Grand Duchess and her brother Alexei were found, buried near where a previous team had found their parents and three sisters. At the time the ballet was created, many, including MacMillan, still believed that she could be the lost Duchess, and her story - a suffering, outsider figure - was his inspiration.

Lynn Seymour as Anastasia in the 1971

The ballet was originally only one-act. MacMillan used Martinu's Symphony No. 6 and electronic music by Fritz Winckel and Rudgier Rufer to create what became the last act of the ballet, depicting Anderson in the asylum attempting to recover her memories. The ballet was premiered by Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin on 25 June, 1967. The ballet was a purely expressionist piece, haunting and modern. The premiere starred Lynn Seymour as Anna Anderson, along with Rudolf Holz, Vergie Derman, and Gerhard Bohner.

Lynn Seymour as Anastasia in 1971

In 1971, following the great success of the ballet, MacMillan expanded it to a three-act work for the Royal Ballet. He was now Director of the Royal Ballet, and set the tone for his tenure by staging this new ballet, his second full-length composition for company (he had already set his Romeo and Juliet for them). He used Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 and No. 3 for the first two acts. This choice of music contributed greatly to the contrast between the 'memories' of Acts I and II, and Anderson's harsh reality in Act III. The three-act ballet premiered at Covent Garden on 22 July, 1971, again starring Lynn Seymour as Anastasia/Anna Anderson.

Leanne Benjamin as Anastasia with her three sisters, Olga, Tatiana, and Maria

The ballet is also a merging in styles, making it an extremely experimental work. The first two acts are in the classical style, while the third act is in a form of German expressionism that British audiences had never seen before. The ballet was a success, however, and remains one of MacMillan's most popular.

Here's Laura Helm dancing the one-act original:

The Royal Ballet's poster image for the 2016/2017 season, including 'Anastasia'

Thanks for reading! As a side note, the National Ballet of Canada has now uploaded their World Ballet Day segment onto their YouTube channel, and the San Francisco Ballet will be doing so shortly. Remember they're only available for thirty days!

- Selene

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