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 Post subject: Eifman Ballet - Thirtieth Anniversary Season
PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 1:29 am 
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Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
One of several reviews to come in the next week or so:

“Tchaikovsky”
Eifman Ballet
Thirtieth Anniversary Season
Alexandrinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg, Russia
20 June 2007
by Catherine Pawlick

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 Oleg Gabishev 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 heartwrenching 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 that 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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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 2:57 am 
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Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
“Red Giselle”
Thirtieth Anniversary Season
Eifman Ballet
Alexandrinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg, Russia

22 June 2007

By Catherine Pawlick

A decade after its initial premiere, Eifman Ballet’s “Red Giselle” continues to uphold the genius with which it first greeted audiences, presenting the darkly tragic tale of the famous Russian ballerina, Olga Spessivtseva in a realistic macabre mood. As the choreographer notes in the program, this ballet is not a biography of Spessivtseva, but rather “an attempt to illustrate the lives of those talented (artists) who were forced to flee Russia” during the time of the Revolution. Nonetheless, it covers the main events of the ballerina’s life, from her glorious career begun in Petrograd at a ballet barre, to her tortured affair with a KGB agent, her eventual flight to Paris for a new beginning, and her commission to an insane asylum where she lived out the remainder of her years.

The messages in the ballet are numerous. The first scene depicts the idyllic pre-War peace through an almost Degas-like look at the Petrograd ballet studio at the turn of the century. Eifman should be credited here with grabbing the audience’s attention from the outset with this almost Vaseline-lensed snapshot of the Old World: ballerinas in white practice tutus stretch and warm-up before class, one at the barre, another on the floor reading a book in a 180-degree split. The image entrances. Olga Spessivtseva stands out from the rest of the group here, not only physically -- hallowed-out eyes and hair pulled down over her ears – but for the fluid, elegant movements she offers in the classroom. Nina Zmievets danced this role with an uncanny resemblance to the great ballerina herself: impossibly frail limbs belied an amazing flexibility in stable, 180-degree penchee arabesques at more than one turn. And the ease with which her partners tossed her overhead into numerous lifts, or dragged her across the floor in various elasticized lines attested to the strong partner-work within Eifman’s troupe, and a finely rehearsed production.

The Teacher, danced with apt reservation and authority by Sergei Volobyuiev, resembles Enrico Ceccetti in his turn of the century studio dress, replete with tie and cane, and takes a fancy to Spessistseva, she in turn finding in him a source of solace. We move from the studio to the Mariinsky Theatre, as hinted at by the backdrop of the famous blue and gold curtain. White practice tutus are replaced by gold tutus and tiaras. Here Eifman employs several clever production shifts. The performers assume classical positions in the dance – attitude promenade and penchee – depicting the epitomy of classicism that is the Mariinsky. Then, the stage turns around as the dancers take their curtain calls at the footlights upstage, their backs to us. The effect is one of intimacy: we are suddenly onstage with Spessivtseva, looking out at the audience with her and the rest of the dancers. This small detail adds considerable dimension to Eifman’s work.

The joy and celebration that follows the performance, as the dancers themselves applaud the Ballerina is quickly darkened by the arrival of the sinister KGB agent, a Czechist danced with appropriate roughness by Yuri Ananian. He claims Spessivtseva for his own with a serious of malicious movements. This enrages the Teacher and places Spessivtseva in an awkward position. The pas de deux between the Ballerina and the Agent carries hints of violence and rape as he maneuvers her metaphorically with a tight grip on her neck. This is followed by tenderness as the agent covers her shoulders with his own leather jacket and they leave the stage.

The scene that follows explains the shift occurring on a global scale. The destruction of the world of Art at the hands of the revolutionaries is depicted when scores of ballerinas in practice tutus are each dragged onstage by their own individual “Czechist”, their formerly fluid movements becoming robotic, stiff-legged marches with wartime salutes. Eifman then parodies the conception of the USSR with a mass of boot-stomping, ill-mannered, proletariat workers who are impressed with Spessivtseva’s ability to move so eloquently. As the Czechist looks on, her dance shifts from elegant grace to a more banal means of movement that the masses understand. The Teacher, seeing this, is helpless to come to her aid; already, it seems, she has left his world, becoming vulgarized by this new political movement. A brief return to the ballet studio shows that no one will come to Spessivtseva’s aid. She has no friends or supporters. She begs the Teacher for help, but he is “crucified” on the ballet barre by the Czechists, and the ballerina flees, suitcase in hand, with a number of other Russians dressed in white, for Paris.

Paris greets the Ballerina with another set of challenges. Arriving in the glass-domed Conservatory, she feels immediately out of place, but once invited to dance, her Art rewards her with the joy of movement. Spessivtseva clearly feels at home in the arms of her Partner, danced with a slight amount of deliberately feminine finesse by Oleg Gabishev, but he is otherwise engaged with his own lover, a fellow male dancer in the troupe (listed as The Friend in the program), danced by Anton Labunskass. The Friend will have none of the Partner’s dilly-dallying with a female, and engages him in a pas de deux. Labunskass, still a member of the corps de ballet, stood out for his strength and agility in this complex duet with Gabishev that expresses their mutual love. A seething glance at Spessivtseva here, or a hand wrapped around Gabishev’s shoulder there were a few of the small details Labunskass used skillfully and with perfect timing to mark his “territory”. The message was clear: the Partner could only be Spessivtseva’s onstage.

Spessivtseva’s decent into madness accelerates at this point in the ballet, as illustrated by scenes of her offstage, gathering faceless dolls from her suitcase for comfort, and a surreal pas de deux with a floating face. A section from the score of “Evgeny Onegin” adds a quiet pathos to the final scene in which the Ballerina races between a series of shifting mirrors, finally passing through one and looking back out at the audience as the curtain closes.

Zmievets’ untiring expression of both fear and anguish in this role point to her deep-seated dramatic gifts. These, combined with a nearly faultless technique carried her through the production, winning her applause from fellow company members at the final curtain. The audience’s appreciation brought Boris Eifman himself on stage for a curtain call as well. Despite its size, this small troupe is a gem, packed with talented dancers and emotive performers. “Red Giselle” is a must-see for fans of classical ballet as well as Eifman’s own followers.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 8:18 am 
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Chaika (“The Seagull”)
Eifman Ballet
Thirtieth Anniversary season
Alexandrinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg, Russia

23 June 2007

By Catherine Pawlick

Even moreso than with his exquisite “Red Giselle”, Boris Eifman’s “Chaika”, or “The Seagull”, is a departure from the eponymous classical novel on which it is based, but only in form. With yet another glimpse at the philosophical ideas behind a major historical work, Eifman here uses his ballet as the jumping ground from which to explore themes such as the development of art, the search for new forms, love, and career, all in a new setting: that of the ballet studio.
Before sitting down to watch this piece, viewers unfamiliar with the Chekov work would be wise to briefly study the background in order to understand the events transpiring on stage. Eifman has taken a complex plot, boiled it down and transposed it. Therefore some prior knowledge is paramount in order to follow the libretto.

This ballet utilizes four main characters from the book, adjusting each to fit the world of dance. Mme. Arkadina, a renowned actress in the novel, here is a successful ballerina in love with the writer Trigorin, here a choreographer of note. Arkadina's son, Konstantin Treplev, who in the novel is a young aspiring writer, here is a budding young choreographer who seeks his mother’s approval. He is in love with aspiring actress Nina Zarechnaya, here a young dancer in competition for Arkadina's position within the studio, and for the attentions of both Treplev and Trigorin.

The “seagull” theme itself opens the ballet when Konstantin, danced by Oleg Gabishev with endless focus and abandon, appears trapped inside a metal frame whose sides expand into various angles as he pushes them forth. The image of the caged bird, the artist struggling to reach beyond form, to fly, is an apt metaphor. Treplev’s artistic creations, which later include a silly performance by dancers in ghostlike grey spacesuit unitards and a tunnel of fabric under from which they protrude, replaces the character’s unsuccessful outdoor play in the novel. One sees that his attempts to create new forms fall flat: the results are somewhat frightening, perhaps comical, but never inspiring. Treplev repeatedly turns to his mother for reassurance, love and attention – seen mostly as Gabishev races to her with violent, angular steps and poses, void of intuitive flow or specific meaning. Here we see a familial tug-of war: Arkadina’s self-absorption --depicted aptly as Nina Zmievets primps and fawns in front of a mirror, demanding adulation from everyone and no one at once – overshadowing the Oedipal relationship with her son which in turn interrupts, or is interrupted by, interludes with her own lover, of whom Treplev is clearly jealous. The overall confusion in this irreconcilable love triangle manifests itself in a series of pas de deux that shift into pas de trois until one or more characters disappear.

As Trigorin, Yuri Smelakov is the suave, good-looking choreographer whose luck in movement translates to luck in relationships. Arkadina wants him. So does the younger Nina Zarechnaya. No sooner does he complete one pas de deux, than he’s interrupted with the other lady insisting on his attentions. Mostly, Arkadina succeeds – the impression one has is of Zmievets as the older, more accomplished woman, more skilled at drawing a young attractive male into her lair. After one solo, she’s raised three-people high in a human tower, only to wave down at Smelakov, as if to say “See me, love me!” interrupting an interlude with Zarechnaya that never does begin. Zarechnaya thus is left to resort to the childlike affections of Treplev who, as Gabishev played him, seemed able to distract her temporarily but never more than this.

Yuri Smelakov himself is one of the best kept secrets in Russian ballet. From the dance studio scenes in Act I where he leads the crowd in curious step combinations, to his Act II solo, Smelakov gives a 200% physical and emotional energy output to this role. Blessed with a well-proportioned body, blonde locks and an uncanny ability to emote, he is one of the strongest principals in Eifman’s troupe; indeed, the solo in this ballet was created specifically for him.

As Zarechnaya, the beautiful Maria Abashova offered a spellbinding performance with her strength and finesse. Blessed with a seemingly unlimited range of motion (as is the case with all Eifman females, it seems) inside a lean, pre-teen body without the cut muscles or knobby joints of some of her older counterparts, she reminds one of the rising star Natalia Osipova, equally self-assured in her movements, with a competitive technique and secure acting ability. She repeatedly stole the spotlight: she is simply mesmerizing.

The rest of the Eifman dancers’ gumby-like joints and distorted, angular shapes did their job at conveying anguish, frustration and despair throughout “Chaika” too. The exception to the overall “look” of the ballet appears only in the form of a brief hip-hop scene at the end of Act I which the troupe pulls off with verve and proves their capabilities to perform other dance styles.

At the end of the evening, things have shifted slightly. Zarechnaya has found work in a night club that she cares not to explain to Treplev; Arkadina is still drowning in narcissism, and Trigorin continues his road to fame via the dance. Poor Treplev however, returns to his metal cage of his own will, closing the angular frame around himself, retreating into his own world of tortured thought. It seems then, that we’ve just caught a glimpse of these four lives, but the close of the curtain resolves nothing: such problems are eternal.

“Chaika” is performed to a range of Rachmaninoff’s famous pieces, including the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, the Second Symphony, several quartets, a scerzo and elegy among others, all of which are interspersed with electronic sound effects. This contrast between idyllic classical and funky modern (including the hip-hop beat) music parallels Eifman’s production, underlining his contemporary translation of a timeless novel. For the onslaught of new forms or visual information via unique movement, “Chaika” is a bit exhausting upon first view, but as these images are recalled to memory later, one realizes that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and a second viewing seems paramount.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:28 pm 
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Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
‘Anna Karenina’
Eifman Ballet
Thirtieth Anniversary Season
Alexandrinsky Theatre
St. Petersburg, Russia
29 June 2007

By Catherine Pawlick

In a fourth program by the Eifman Ballet during this celebration of their thirtieth season, the company presented one of its newer works, “Anna Karenina”, which was created just two years ago, prior to their 2005 US tour. It seemed fitting to view this piece in the Alexandrinsky Theatre, where the breathtakingly restored ornate red, gold and white baroque interior offers luxurious surroundings in the manner in which Anna herself would have attended the theatre.

The score for “Anna” begins with the haunting chords of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, made more famous by Balanchine’s “Serenade”, which is then interspersed with pieces from the composer’s symphonic poem, Opus 32, Francesca de Rimini, and finally some electronic music at certain intervals. That Eifman chose a musical selection depicting the adulterous affair that led to de Rimini’s death and ultimate condemnation is, one presumes, not coincidental.

It is to those sounds of Serenade that the first scene is set. Anna sees her son dressed in a sailor suit playing with a miniature train set and embraces him before being cloaked and carried off to a party by her stern husband. In the ballroom we instantly spot Vronsky for his light clothing and attractive dance partner as they whirl with the rest of the dancers to an allegro interval. Here Anna dances with her husband, played by Oleg Markov, a dancer who seems to have mastered the empty stare that reflects a dutiful but perhaps, at first, unemotional heart. During the interplay of expected steps in this high society setting, Anna and Vronsky of course meet, but the moment is fleeting, the dance at the ball pulls them again in opposite directions. Back at home, Anna slides out from under Karenin on their bed in an openly sexual interlude. That she feels nothing for her husband is clear, and that she dreams of the man at the ball even clearer.

It isn’t until the second scene, opened by men in black vests and black pants, where the couple truly dances together. Here Anna shivers at Vronsky’s touch, her leg fluttering symbolically like Odette’s – we know her heart has been set on fire – and a smile of joy spreads across her face. She is filled with love and passion, as attested to by the lovers’ movements – expansive and large – in contrast to the smaller, more constricted interplay between Anna and Karenin. Anna repeatedly evades her husband, crumbling to the floor at his every touch, but races towards Vronsky to embrace him. This contrasting reaction tells us all we need to know about the heroine’s feelings.

Moments later the stage is black save for two lone spotlights, one illuminating Anna in her bed, and the other on Vronsky in his. They echo each others’ movements, informing us that their connection exists independent of space and time. That space/time continuum is broken as the lights are raised and the lovers’ first passionate pas de deux occurs while Karenin paces at home, wondering where his wife is as the clock strikes two. The scene is set for our heroine’s demise.

That heroine was depicted effortlessly from the start by the impossibly beautiful Maria Abashova, whose face and body seem preordained for this role. With her dark hair smoothed back into a bun, Abashova’s exquisite lines were never marred by the long dresses favored by Eifman’s costumers. Abashova is blessed with highly arched feet, a plasticity that knows know bounds and, above all, a deep acting instinct. Her sweeping pas de deux with Vronsky displayed all the abandon of a woman awakened by passion. Her repeated dismissal of Karenin’s advances however, were not performed without guilt. She portrayed Anna’s conscience, the burden of her dilemma, its ramifications, and her doubt through calculated pauses, a head turned away, a shudder, or a careful glance.

In the second act, a duet of anguish between Anna and Vronsky, danced by the talented Yuri Smelakov, was punctuated by moments of dejected reflection. Smelakov danced an ideal Vronsky: from his first appearance in the ballroom to a scene with fellow soldiers in a beer-hall, we understand immediately that he is an attractive gentleman, but one with a conscience. Smelakov danced several solos with nothing less than full energy, high leaps shifting to contracted positions and back again to expansive movements. The demands of this choreography are not for the lighthearted and Smelakov makes them look like a walk in the park. In a scene where Vronsky is finally alone with Anna, painting her portrait, Smelakov suddenly becomes dissatisfied with his work, covers the canvas, and curls into a fetal position. As the pair alternate between moments of reflection and expressions of joy, the weight of their predicament is clear.

The multi-layered relationship between Karenin and his wife was depicted well by Oleg Markov, whose Karenin was clearly in love with his wife but lacked understanding as to her betrayal of him. While initially he appeared cold, in later scenes he approached Anna, palms up, as if asking “why?” but was quickly pushed away. His subsequent efforts to retain her in body do nothing to bring her soul closer to his. Abashova’s Anna shriveled from any touch of Markov’s, becoming instant jello on the floor. And just after pushing him away she too would beg for forgiveness. The twain of this husband and wife pair seemed to never quite meet, for neither could see the other’s point of view.

The ballet itself has many small moments that carry along the libretto. At the close of the first act, Anna spots her son’s toy train running slowly on a circular track, bathed in a spotlight with snow softly falling. She steps into the ring, the train continuing in circles around her feet, and she slowly undulates under the falling snow. This one image encapsulates the entire ballet: her love for her son, her own demise and the endless torment inside her.

In another scene, soldiers dressed in khaki uniforms have become drunk. Each collapses on his own chair from the alcohol as a servant rushes to collect all of their champagne glasses. Moments later the soldiers are jumping with, on, and off of the chairs in a central formation that cleverly recreates a cavalry. Vronsky dances an angst-ridden solo among the soldiers, with split-jumps stretched out in second that are interspersed with sharp tour-jetes. These corps de ballet interludes are interspersed with solo variations and pas de deux from the main characters, offering a balanced presentation of the company’s talents.

A singular religious allusion stands out in this ballet. Vronsky carries Anna offstage in the second act as if she is Jesus on the cross, her arms extended, her legs bent in parallel, her head dropped lifeless to her chest. The moment is moving, and one of many that provides further commentary on Anna’s moral and psychological quandary throughout the performance.

Adding another dimension to the story, Eifman’s sumptuous costumes relay the lush riches of the aristocracy centuries ago without restraining the dancers’ ability to move. While arms are bare, we nonetheless understand the setting for the corset-like tops and floor length gowns on the women, the boots and riding pants, or epaulettes and trousers on the men.

While each character had effectively mastered Eifman’s abstract, signature style of movement, the heroine’s dependency on her passion, or addiction if you will, is hard to differentiate from simple torment. We do however receive a recreation of the main dilemma set forth by Tolstoy: do we have the right to destroy a family for the sake of passionate love, or does duty take precedence. As Eifman himself notes in the program, these questions have no answers.

While Eifman has been criticized for his reductionist approach to great literature, what he has done is to bring classical Russian fiction to the arguably ignorant masses. While every Russian knows this famous story, elsewhere in the world it is not as well known – certainly American high schools do not assign this in their curriculum. It would be amiss then to assume that everyone knows the story of Anna Karenina, but for those who are familiar, have they considered the psychological impact of such a story, the morals it entails? Placed in the position of our heroine, how would readers worldwide react? Watching a performance such as Eifman’s “Karenina” is, if nothing else, cause for reflection.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 22, 2007 1:31 am 
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My photo works with Eifman Ballet:

Entreaty
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Dance lesson. Staccato.

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