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Eifman Ballet - 30th Anniversary Season

'Tchaikovsky'

by Catherine Pawlick

June 20, 2007 -- Alexandrinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

As part of its thirtieth season and following this year’s whirlwind tours to the US and the Baltic States, Eifman Ballet has finally slowed down the pace enough to stop in its home town for a nearly two-month run of some of the company’s finest works. In June and July, Eifman Ballet is performing favorites such as “Russian Hamlet”, “Anna Karenina”, “Chaika”, “Tchaikovsky,” “Red Giselle”, “Don Quixote”, and more, all at the elegantly restored Alexandrinsky Theatre.

Eifman Ballet’s St. Petersburg stop is a chance once again for local audiences to absorb one of Russia’s most innovative choreographers, and judging from the full house on June 20, that’s just what his followers are doing.

Eifman’s “Tchaikovsky”, originally created in 1993, garnered Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask award in 1996, the very year the awards were instituted, thereby attesting early on to its place among high Russian art. While at times the movement onstage in this complex piece can be overwhelming – the entire company dancing different steps in different places to different tempos, and two leading characters downstage, each dancing to their own drummer as well – the ballet nonetheless intrigues by offering an introspective look at the struggle and inner turmoil that plagued the great composer.

Weaving reality with fantasy, Eifman juxtaposes Tchaikovsky’s alter ego onstage, danced by Igor Kuzmin, with Tchaikovsky the man and composer, danced poignantly by Oleg Markov. The two are like puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit: they dance together, fight each other, separate, and make up. In the process, characters from some of Tchaikovsky’s most well-known ballets appear as the reincarnation of the composer’s innermost thoughts. A flock of white swans appears, almost protecting Tchiakovsky from his own inner demons; a group of Rothbart-like black birds (all danced by men) surround him after Carabosse chases him down; and finally we see the Prince from “Sleeping Beauty”, danced by Ilya Osipov –the embodiment of Tchaikovsky’s ideal – who, despite being awakened with a kiss from Pyotr Ilyich himself nonetheless remains an unattainable figment of the imagination.

As Tchaikovsky’s wife, Natalia Povorozniuk danced her role with passionate abandon. As Nadezhda Filaretovna von Mett, the composer’s reliable benefactress, Honored Artist of Russia Elena Kuzmina offered several heart wrenching solos with extreme plasticity. At the moment when she laid paper money at Tchaikovsky’s feet, Markov appeared at once overcome with her generosity and revolted at the necessity and dependence on material support in order to indulge his muse.

Throughout, Markov portrayed an exhausted, hollow-eyed artist whose inner turmoil was palpable. The effect was draining but that’s exactly what Eifman seems to be striving for: Tchaikovsky’s own struggle – his homosexuality, financial concerns and societal ones – left him no peace. The ballet enters the 19th century with ease – one scene in particular, with ladies and gentleman with parasols in hand sets the mood – and we are shown the old world of ballrooms, bedrooms, and card games where societal expectations and norms can leave grave indentations on lives and personalities.

Eifman’s presentation of this biography is not without metaphor. The composer becomes strangled in his wife’s veil immediately following their wedding ceremony and finally drinks from the cholera-ridden beverage that precipitated his real death. Tellingly, the music stops before he does. His attempt to bang out a final composition on a table/piano falls flat: the music is already gone. As the curtain closes, eternity is found only in death.

In this production, not only the soloists stand out. Eifman’s dancers as a group infuse the ballet with a high level of constant energy that isn’t found in some of ballet’s quieter classical works. For those who don’t know Tchaikovsky’s biography, the ballet is an excellent historical lesson despite its fantastic approach. For those who do, Eifman’s ability to investigate the psychological underpinnings of one of the 19th century’s greatest men through creative, complex movement and a combined score of some of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works is also great art.

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