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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
(Eifman Ballet/Ardani Artists Website)
Boris Eifman, Artistic Director
Sergei Danilian and
Ardani Artists Management, Inc., Producer

At City Center
(City Center Website)

Boris Eifman’s
(Read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin Poem)

Dr.Roberta E. Zlokower
May 29, 2009

Some Eifman Ballet Program Notes:

Boris Eifman, Artistic Director, Choreographer, and Director, has created over 40 ballets. He has won all the highest awards in the arts in Russia and was inducted into France’s Order of Arts and Letters. Eifman is known to fuse classic ballet with contemporary choreography and is fascinated with the magic of genius and the realm of the human psyche. Eifman stresses the theatrical impact of his productions, one ruled by emotions.

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg has been geared for a continuous, creative process. Eifman has produced ballets to rock music, and he has also created ballets about Tchaikovsky and Moliere. He emphasizes psychoanalysis through movement and the energy of mass action scenes. Eifman has also designed ballets around Shakespearean theater, such as “Russian Hamlet”, “The Twelfth Night”, plus the one-act “Musagète” for New York City Ballet and the two-act “Who’s Who”. “Anna Karenina”, “The Seagull”, and “Red Giselle” were also presented in recent years at City Center.

Boris Eifman’s Onegin (New York Premiere): Choreography by Boris Eifman, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky and Alexander Sitkovetsky, Set Design by Zinovy Margolin, Costume Design by Olga Schaishmelaschvili and Pyotr Okunev, Lighting Design by Gleb Filschtinsky and Boris Eifman, Video Design by Vladimir stage sets that Bystrov, Performed by Oleg Gabushev as Onegin, Maria Abashova as Tatyana, Dmitry Fisher as Lensky, Natalia Povoroznyuk as Olga, Sergei Volobuev as Colonel, an the Company.

I always look forward to the biannual May, Eifman event at City Center, for its daring, drama, and death-defying dance. Boris Eifman draws from Russian literature (see above links to previous Eifman reviews) and then creates his own synthesis of the literary theme and characters’ emotions. He crafts that synthesis into powerful dance, mixing ballet with modern, fusing Russian classical with Russian contemporary music, and designing stage sets that rivet the gut. The audience at the Eifman ballets is overwhelmingly from Russia, and large amber jewelry is sold at intermission. Everything about the “Eifman experience” is different and worth the wait. Just as Abstract Expressionism shocked the senses in the 1940’s, Eifman’s ballets often shock the senses today, but his loyal fans are willing to stretch the imagination and absorb the visual explosion of unseasoned ballet imagery.

Set to extracts of almost a dozen works by Tchaikovsky, woven into six additional works by Russian Rock composer, Sitkovetsky, Maria Abashova, as Tatyana, and Oleg Gabushev, as Onegin, lead the Cast and Company in out-sized bravura dance, often in the ballet genre, and often in athletic depiction of the literary action. A giant circular projection, that falls and rises, in red/black/white, shifts from the eve of the “coup of 1991” in Russia, with archival films of the uprising, to a glittering ballerina-swan floating in elegant motion. This circular motif sometimes embodies that same abstract expressionist art form, mentioned above. There’s a giant bridge (one of Eifman’s favorite stage motifs), that literally bridges St. Petersburg with its rural surroundings, as well as class, psychic stability, and time. And, throughout, there’s always the swelling momentum, of emotion, of music, of volume, of dance intensity, of fog, and of impending doom.

As this version of the story-poem goes, Onegin is a fashionable rogue, who seeks to seduce the introspective and intellectual Tatyana, to draw her out, as he sees her lyrically dancing with her sister, Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk), and friends. He succeeds and no longer needs her, but Tatyana is fully engrossed with emotion and dreams of rape. Onegin’s friend Lensky (Dmitry Fisher), a guitarist, pursues Olga, coy and flirtatious, and there are dances between Lensky and Onegin, with numerous lifts and lunges, building the inevitable friction and violent outcome. Lensky pushes Onegin beyond his extreme edge, manipulating his psyche and pride, and Onegin’s fury is unleashed against his tragic friend. Meanwhile, Tatyana marries the Colonel (Sergei Volobuev), blind, blond, and bereted, and Onegin watches the rural lass turned urban sophisticate party with her black dressed, suave “fashionistas”. His plight ends, sitting at a desk, his letters swirling in the air.

Boris Eifman’s Onegin is choreographed and staged, for some, in shocking disloyalty to Pushkin’s literary integrity. In fact, some see this ballet as disloyal to Tchaikovsky and to the very art of ballet, itself. However, I see Eifman’s craft as a new genre, that synthesis I presented above. The choreography includes lyrical, Robbins-like rural dance, as well as Rock-propelled scissors kicks en air, gravity-defying spins and leaps, and intense, dark, repetitious thud-producing stamping. There’s a wild fight-scene, an erotic rape scene, and a svelte wedding scene, all fused with physical - psychological torment. There’s self-gratification, self-annihilation, and self-loathing. And, all the while, red/black/white smoke merges with mixed musical themes, such as Tchaikovsky’s String Quartets and Sitkovetsky’s “Satan’s Dance”. There was even a love letter read entirely in Russian. Eifman’s fans are already looking forward to his next Russian ballet adventure. Kudos to Boris Eifman, and kudos to Ardani Artists for bringing this production to New York.

Tatyana (Maria Abashova) and Onegin (Oleg Gabyshev)
Courtesy of Valentin Baranovsky

Tatyana (Maria Abashova) and Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk)
Courtesy of Anatoly Budnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at