Eifman Ballet
Kings of the Dance Tickets

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

Title: Eifman's ballet method makes for fine 'Quixote' madness
Date: April 22, 2011
Publisher: Chicago Sun-Times

I've spent two consecutive nights in a madhouse this week — first with an English king ("The Madness of King George III," receiving a brilliant production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and next with a delusional mental hospital inmate, "Don Quixote, or Fantasies of a Madman," receiving its final two performances today at the Auditorium Theatre, courtesy of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia.

In many ways, the English madman saw life all too clearly, while the inmate found a lifeline in his ability to plumb his imagination and escape reality.

Choreographer Boris Eifman has taken the story of Don Quixote, that chivalrous gentleman obsessed with books, and used it to tell the story of a dreamer (perhaps even a former dancer-choreographer) who is now incarcerated in an insane asylum, where he survives by spinning tales of love and derring-do in sunny Barcelona, and where he tries to involve his fellow inmates in his antics. At the same time, Eifman has incorporated elements of the flamboyantly comic-romantic 19th century Russian classic by Petipa (using the original Ludwig Minkus score throughout), staging some of the more conventional ballet scenes ever to be found in his notably contemporary body of work. But while it proves to be an interesting experiment in contrasting styles, it is clear that Eifman's heart is far more invested in the madhouse.

The Eifman that Chicago audiences has grown familiar with over the last decade (and as always, a good portion of those audiences are from this area's large Russian immigrant population) is certainly in easily identifiable form in the madhouse scenes, with a lanky ensemble of men in raggy white costumes carrying around their slop buckets (as opposed to King George's royal chamber pots). It is in the madhouse that "the bookish patient imagining himself to be Don Quixote" (a marvelously gangly and agile Sergey Volobuev) and his devoted sidekick, Sancho Panza (an easily charming Alexander Melkaev), must face the constraints of a forbidding doctor (the astonishing Yulia Manzheles, tall, whippet thin, with a severely arched back and the demeanor of Nurse Ratched from "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"). And it is there that this self-created Quixote comically attempts to enlist his fellow inmates in "Swan Lake"-like corps de ballet ensembles and chorus lines. (Eifman seems to playfully suggest that every ballet company also is half-mad on many levels. And the notion briefly grows darker, as three giant and very sinister puppet figures invade Quixote's mind, subtly recalling how artists were often tormented during Soviet times.)

It is with Quixote's Barcelona dream world that we get Eifman's gloss on Petipa, with all the familiar play-acting and technical fireworks of lovers Kitri (Natalia Matsak) and Basil (Alexei Turko), plus the hijinks of Kitri's relentless suitor, the wealthy, foppish Gamache (fleet dancing by Vladimir Dorokhin).

Matsak, tiny and painfully thin, whipped off every technical challenge with aplomb, but she is a tense dancer short on charisma, and her partner, Turko, possesses even less charm. The two generated virtually no chemistry together, and a brief but startling botched landing (from which Matsak rallied dazzlingly in a second) seemed symptomatic of their relationship.

On the other hand, in the role of the tavern girl (Quixote's Dulcinea), the petite, sparklingly sensual, boldly acrobatic Anastasia Sitnikova was irresistible.
Designer Vyacheslav Okunev's costumes deftly suggest the grayness of the madhouse and the fantastic colors of Spain, and his simple, elegant sets (clearly ideal for touring) were heightened by sharply dramatic lighting.

The ballet ends rather abruptly, but then the full cast returns for some flamboyant Spanish folk dancing and many bows, all set to music. And while this "Don Quixote" might be Eifman light, the seamlessness of his choreography is never without its pleasures.