Right now, a relic: a response by Joanna Furnans

Anna Karenina presented and performed by the Joffrey Ballet

a co-production with The Australian Ballet

World Premiere, February 13, 2019 Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL

Artistic Director: Ashley Wheater, Conductor: Scott Speck, Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov, Composer: Ilya Demutsky, Libretto: Valeriy Pecheykin, Costume & Set Design: Tom Pye, Projection Design: Finn Ross, Lighting Design: David Finn

Starring: Victoria Jaiani, Fabrice Calmels, Alberto Velazquez, Anais Bueno, Yoshihisa Arai, and vocalist Lindsay Metzger

image: Cheryl Mann


I’ll admit I was giddy. Giddy from the pomp and circumstance related to a world premiere.

I mean, the resources that go into a production of this magnitude!

The hours spent, the hair lost, the debates had, the muscles tightened, the strings snapped, the sequences cut, the donors appeased, the private tears, the communal pride.

I was also nervous. Nervous with opening night jitters. A sympathetic nervousness imagining the dancers backstage in full makeup, hair plastered to their sculls, wearing cushy slippers and loose sweats over their tights and bodices keeping them supple and ready for the


of energy. of perspective. of tradition.

The role of a lifetime for some. A dream come true for others. Exactly what the multitudes want to see.

Right here. Right now. A relic made in 2019.

Conservative and out of touch.

And at the end, what I expected and what most disappoints:

A curtain call revealing the creative team of all white men, the “genius” underneath/behind/above it all,

holding hands, taking their reverential bows to a most exuberant standing ovation.

They could have made different choices but they didn’t. They could have hired masters in the field, practitioners at the top of their game, individuals brimming with fresh imagery and electrifying new steps who were women and people of color.

Wouldn’t you at least have been curious to see how a former Bolshoi prima ballerina might have approached this choreography? This story?

Welcome back, killjoy.

I know, let’s fantasize about the possibilities of new contemporary story ballets. But be careful not to make them too radical because we still need to fill the auditorium.

I’ll start: Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Plath’s The Bell Jar. Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Erdrich’s The Round House. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Woolf’s Orlando. Butler’s Kindred. Myles’s Chelsea Girls.

 Surely these titles are mainstream enough.

Alright, maybe

it’s absurd.

But what stirs you now? You, the audience? You, the funders? You as liberals? You who—as a group, in theory—vehemently oppose Trump and disagree with misogyny, and inequality between races, classes, and genders?

Do you go to a ballet and happily (gratefully?) leave those lenses behind?

I did it at first too. I couldn’t help but get swept up in the surge of an original sound score performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic.

And the magnificence and power of the truly remarkable Victoria Jaiani as Anna.

And Yoshihisa Arai as Levin absolutely took my breath away.

And the choreography at the racecourse was superb. Oh, and the ballroom scene full of self-assured, sharp lined women in delicious costumes of tulle and chiffon.

I was enchanted.

Because I let my fairytale mind take over. Me, as a girl again watching Disney with all its color, feeling, and song. Me as a girl dreaming about a life in dance and the possibilities of what that could mean. I had no idea of its potential. Then.

I think it was the projections—cheesy, obvious, disruptive— that pulled me out of my child mind and brought me back to now.

2019. Chicago. Shootings. Corruption. Disparity. All the isms.

I want to be punitive because I feel angry. And now that anger is directed at:

The Joffrey: for their missed opportunity to stage a work that could have been THE seminal ballet of NOW. For not aligning politics with practice.

At the audience: for being so swept up that they were blind. Or maybe not blind, but willing/wanting to turn the other cheek (because it is an insult) in favor of a “great ballet.” For excepting entertainment as it is.

At myself: for doing the same. For not knowing how to reconcile the dreams with the realities. For wanting to escape and enjoying the escape.


Joanna Furnans is a Chicago-based dance artist and writer. She is co-founder and managing editor of the Performance Response Journal. www.joannafurnans.com