Eifman Ballet: Onegin, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
Author: Allan Ulrich
Date: May 5, 2009
St Petersburg's irrepressible, idiosyncratic dance master has returned to the American landscape, sprinkling his revisionist reflections over the bedrock artefacts and artists of Russian culture. It was only a matter of time before Boris Eifman faced off with Pushkin's 1835 verse novel Eugene Onegin, but this time the playing field has been previously occupied by John Cranko's 1965 dance drama, which remains an astonishingly durable treatment.
This fact has not daunted Eifman, who, with his dedicated company, has searched Pushkin for universals and come up with arrant foolishness. Transposing the narrative to the tumultuous era of post-Soviet Russia, the choreographer informs us that Onegin is not only an aloof member of the gentry, but also a practising homosexual whose relationship with the poet Lensky transcends the amicable. Although one understands his rejection of the virginal Tatyana, the remainder of the narrative wanders into incoherence. Onegin suddenly discovers his heterosexual essence in his final meeting with Tatyana, now wed to a blind colonel.
More perplexing are the omnipresent corps, who, in the course of the evening, represent disaffected revolutionaries, sober mourners, exuberant dance club patrons and the denizens of Tatyana's febrile dreams. What Eifman can't capture is the ironic tone of his source in a ballet with an emotional centre pitched somewhere between frenzy and hysteria. The musical score morphs from bits of Tchaikovsky (including ill-advised snippets from the opera) to contemporary ephemera by Russian rocker Alexander Sitkovetsky.
It seems only to energise the 55-member company. Here you will find a reliance on the extreme classical technique – the gaping extensions, throat-catching lifts and contorted limbs – that never figures in standard ballet manuals. Maria Abashova makes the transition from innocent to sophisticate with consummate ease. Oleg Gabyshev deploys his almost prehensile extremities to deliver a heroically sullen Onegin. Zinovy Margolin's monumental decor references Russian constructivism in its sweeping ramps and architectural lines. Like the ballet itself, Gleb Filschtinsky's lighting glows with a kind of lurid majesty. Eifman's fans should devour it whole.