Dark night of the soul
Author: Jeffrey Gantz
Date: May 8, 2009
Publisher: The Boston Phoenix
In the program note to his Eugene Onegin, which St. Petersburg's Eifman Ballet is presenting at the Cutler Majestic Theatre this weekend, Boris Eifman writes, "I transported Pushkin's characters to our times. . . . I needed that experiment in order to answer the question that troubles me: what is the Russian soul today? Has it preserved its uniqueness, its mystery, its attraction?" While the company founder and choreographer ponders that question, he can rest assured that Eifman Ballet has preserved its uniqueness, its mystery, its attraction. Also its agony, its ecstasy, its drama, its melodrama, and its tendency to be generic. The weakness of this Onegin is that it's about the Russian soul and not about Russian souls.
Still, Eifman hews closer to Pushkin than he did to Chekhov (The Seagull) here in 2007, or Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) in 2005. His evening-length (it runs just two hours, with one intermission) adaptation of the 1837 novel in verse is balletic, and acrobatic, but not on pointe; the score combines (mostly minor) Tchaikovsky with music by Russian rocker Alexander Sitkovetsky of Autograph. It begins with three comrades, whom we make out to be Onegin (Oleg Gabyshev last night), a guitar-strumming Lensky (Dmitry Fisher), and — as a glance at the program reveals — the "Colonel" (Sergei Volobuev), all sitting at a table while, on a large disc overhead, the Soviet Union collapses. Cut to a backdrop that looks like the Bunker Hill Bridge and the company, in gray proletariat warm-ups, cavorting like the kids in High School Musical while, on the disc, ballerinas go through their paces. Cut to a bamboo curtain (student digs?) before which Onegin and Lensky play out a languid duet of burgeoning friendship. Then it's night at the bridge, under a moth-eaten moon, and we're introduced to sisters Tatiana (Maria Abashova) and Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk), the one serious in braids, the other flirty with bangs and a shorter skirt. Lensky appears and kisses Olga, then introduces Onegin to Tatiana, who's reluctant to forsake her book. Finally, they dance, to a snippet from the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto: he scuffs the ground, she puts her head on his shoulder, and it gets hot and heavy (pace Pushkin) before he leaves.