Joffrey Ballet dancers perfoming Anna Karenina
Credit: Cheryl Mann

Ballets have long been made from fairy tales and storybook characters, from Clara in The Nutcracker to Victoria Page in The Red Shoes. But a new genre is cropping up this century: literary ballets. In 2017, for instance, the Charlotte Ballet adapted Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights into an incredible, and incredibly dark, full-length show. In 2019, American Ballet Theatre put on a Jane Eyre ballet. This spring, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago will present Anna Karenina, a balletic interpretation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic. The narrative follows Anna, a Russian woman who is deeply unhappy in her marriage and starts an affair with Count Vronsky. The ballet chronicles her mental breakdown. In a poignant parallel, the show itself can’t escape conflict. A jointly commissioned project with the Australian Ballet, Anna Karenina premiered in April of 2022 in Sydney—“on a day when the world is learning of Russian atrocities in the city of Bucha [Ukraine],” as one Guardian reviewer put it. Before the curtains rose, a message was projected onto the stage: “The Australian Ballet opens our heart to the victims of the war in Ukraine.” This spring, Joffrey brings the ballet back to the U.S. and is already facing backlash for presenting a Russian story created by a Russian choreographer; Chicago is home to the second largest Ukrainian community in the United States. This question of promoting Russian culture has loomed over arts organizations as the war drags on and thousands lose their lives. Anna Karenina’s story has always been one of deep, conflicting tension; art imitates life. The Joffrey Ballet’s Anna Karenina runs April 5 through 9 at the Kennedy Center. $39–$139.