Title: Pushkin Heroine in Distress (and Clubbers Doing the Zombie Shuffle)
Date: May 31, 2009
Author: Gia Courlas
Publisher: New York Times
The formula behind a Boris Eifman ballet is undeniable. Like it or not, Mr. Eifman is a one-man factory, pumping out minispectacles that share much in common: abrupt scenes, a coarsely patched-together score and acrobatic moments of passion and agitation.
The stage is darkly moody, though Mr. Eifman likes to shock the system with flashes of red. And since sex sells, there is usually a dose of that too, tending toward rough.
In "Onegin," presented by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, on Friday night at New York City Center, Mr. Eifman takes inspiration from Pushkin's treasured novel in verse. In the past he has retold — or plundered — the tales of other revered Russian writers, including Tolstoy ("Anna Karenina") and Dostoyevsky ("The Brothers Karamazov"). With Mr. Eifman's amateurish rendering of "Eugene Onegin," pretty much all that remains are the characters: Tatyana, the shy heroine in love with the haughty Onegin; her spirited sister, Olga; and Olga's fiancé, Lensky, who delivers split jumps while clutching his guitar.
Mr. Eifman updates "Onegin" to 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Using an enormous round screen that appears over the stage like a full moon (or the crystal ball in "The Wizard of Oz"), he mirrors footage of demonstrations and "Swan Lake." Three men sit at a table, toasting the new democracy and looking the worse for wear.
Tatyana, portrayed by Maria Abashova — the production's one bright spot, though more for her sweet nature than for her dancing — is first seen with a group of young women. She is the only one with her nose in a book. When her passion for Onegin (Oleg Gabushev) takes hold, she approaches him with an equal mixture of timidity and girlish lust.
Her pent-up emotions lead to a presumably imagined rape scene, in which Ms. Abashova, hair loose, is held aloft on a narrow bench by a group of seedy clubgoers (or vampires?) as Onegin goes on the attack. The images of split legs are a vision of comic vulgarity, but Ms. Abashova plays it like a siren, aptly, because the episode resembles a crude version of Balanchine's "Prodigal Son."
Mr. Eifman treats the rest of his company like backup dancers in a music video. (There are echoes of Michael Jackson's "Thriller.") Whether zombie creatures, disaffected youth or chic characters in a nightclub, the performers have little to go on.
The jerky, unison choreography is a tepid counterpoint to the histrionic story; just as one scene bleeds into the next with little transitional care, so does the dancing.
And the grating mishmash of music by Tchaikovsky and the Russian rock musician Alexander Sitkovetsky doesn't help. In his program notes, Mr. Eifman notes that basing his work on "Onegin" was "one more attempt to express innermost spirituality through dance." Yet once again, he comes off like an angst-ridden teenager trying to find meaning in a cold, callous world. The rebel act is getting old.