There's an ongoing debate about the relevance of programme notes while watching dance. Some feel that you should be able to follow the piece simply from watching it, or create your own interpretation. Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina is an example of programme notes being essential to understanding the piece, with the synopsis listing each of the scenes depicted.
Anna Karenina is a very dense work. Over at Royal House, in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice, we can see what happens when the choreographer tries to include every detail and nuance, so it's something of a relief that Boris Eifman disposes of most of the text and focusses only on the love triangle between Anna Karenina (Nina Zmievets), her husband Karenin (Oleg Markov) and her lover Count Vronsky (the astounding Oleg Gabyshev). Even her son only appears briefly, including in the prescient opening scene of him sitting in the middle of a circular train track, playing with a toy train.
In a ballet created by a Russian choreographer, based on a novel by a Russian author with a score by a Russian choreographer, passion and melodrama are pretty much guaranteed, and many of the scenes in Anna Karenina attempt to outdo each other in both. We see Anna and Vronksy melt into each other in their first duet; we later see Karenin's anguish at being abandoned, and Anna and Vronsky happily frolicking together in Venice. The high drama of the interactions between the Anna-Karenin-Vronsky trio - with the music lending additional dramatic tension to each of the scenes - are offset by dazzling group sequences which start to overstay their welcome as the ballet progresses.
Eifman's storytelling doesn't quite hit the mark, choosing to show a scene rather than tell a story, with little happening in each scene. But surely we'll be too dazzled by the endless group sections, and the awe-inducing performances by the three lead dancers to notice, or indeed care. And if that isn't enough, then there's the novelty of watching Martha Graham-influenced ballet - just make sure you buy a programme first.