I saw the closing performance of Red Giselle this afternoon at OCPAC. For a choreographer and company billed to be over-the-top, theatrical, etc., I must have missed something as I found myself almost dozing off during parts of the show. I had a full night's sleep, and it was the middle of an afternoon, hours after lunch, so I'm not sure what else to blame besides torpor-inducing choreography.
I certainly don't love the show, but I don't passionately dislike it, as I find myself simply indifferent. The dancers looked visibly tired, as completions of simple technique and most of the partnering were shaky and sloppy. The corps was ragged, and stylistically ununified, as port de bras sprouted like errant weeds. Epaulement of the company was highly exaggerated, and gratuitously distracting. The one exception to the many examples of ragged technique was Yuri Smekalov's strong dancing as The Partner. His solid technique however was powerless in the face of vulgar, trite choreography, and unfocused storytelling.
Borrowing from common everyday gestures, and incorporating them into ballet vocabulary, and a limited set of self-consciously awkward-looking modern movements, the choreography failed to evoke anything beyond what one superficially saw on stage. For example, the opening scene, which uses the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky's Serenade to accompany a ballet class in St. Petersburg, naturally invites comparison to Balanchine's Serenade, and the comparison illustrates how Eifman's choreography fails. Balanchine famously incorporates everyday events in daily class into his Serenade --- the girl falling down, the late girl, and the varying number of students attending class each day --- but doesn't just insert them as-is into Seranade. Instead, each event is distilled, and used to illustrate the mood or dancing that's already going on. Seeing the intrinsic beauty in these everyday events, Balanchine strips away the superficial layers to show us the essential thing that caught his eye, and informs his choreography. Eifman's ballet class is also full of everyday things, like the girl who doesn't listen, and dancers stretching and interacting before class. But all of this is placed into his work with no editing, and therefore the work becomes vulgar --- he may have seen something wonderful that he wanted in his work, but by presenting us just the everyday event as it is, he doesn't make us see what he wants to see, and therefore fails as a choreographer. Imagine if Michelangelo chose to display a block of marble straight from the quarry instead of his finished David.
This literal, unedited insertion of common gesture and event also makes for choppy, unfocused storytelling as we concentrate on the literal details, which are not sufficiently present, and too randomly selected (why do we need to see the girl who doesn't listen, for example) to make a narrative. Making this situation worse is Eifman's use of chunks of classical music, with odd movements ripped out and played in isolation of the context of the work they came from. The emotional flow set up by each piece of music is interrupted jarringly and repeatedly as Eifman switches to completely different pieces of music by different composers for each scene. The result is emotional detachment and attendent boredom as there is no buildup and constant interruption.
For a successful example of a work in this style --- an apparent stream-of-consciousness storytelling --- see John Neumeier's Nijinsky, which the Hamburg Ballet brought to OCPAC last year. Epic in detail, scope, storytelling, and conception, it is everything Red Giselle tries, but fails, to be.