Eifman Ballet's 'Onegin' at OCPAC
Author: Laura Bleiberg
Date: May 21, 2009
Los Angeles Times
During his new ballet spectacle, based on Alexander Pushkin’s revered verse novel "Eugene Onegin," Russian choreographer Boris Eifman delivered some tidy thematic dualities, while the leading dancers of his Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg entertained with magnificent performances.
Eifman’s two-act "Onegin" and the ever-popular company received a standing ovation Wednesday during the ballet’s Southern California debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (through Sunday).
Eifman has updated Pushkin’s tale of the bored aristocrat Onegin by transporting everything 158 years in the future to 1991, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Onegin (Oleg Gabyshev) is an arrogant hipster dressed in maroon, still suffering from an unpleasant case of spleen. His doomed pal Lensky (Dmitry Fisher) is here a guitarist, lovesick for the flirtatious country girl Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk). The repressed sister Tatyana (Maria Abashova) still has her nose in a book until Onegin unlocks a deep, life-changing passion.
The new setting allowed the choreographer to seesaw between past and present, city and country, using an upstage model of St. Petersburg’s Vantov Bridge as a literal and symbolic connector. It was an effective set design (by Zinovy Margolin); so too the video collage that displayed documentary film of actual pro-democracy street protests and performance footage of "Swan Lake."
Other aspects of the production were problematic. The recorded score jarringly contrasted snippets of beloved Tchaikovsky melodies and mediocre pop music by Russian rock star Alexander Sitkovetsky.
The outline of the original story was obviously important to Eifman, because English excerpts of the text were printed in the center’s program. Tatyana’s love letter to Onegin was narrated aloud in Russian.
The Eifman bombastic treatment, however, twists a classic into knots. His stories ultimately unreel in a sensationalist fashion, with sexuality amped up to the highest decibels. Tatyana’s famous love dream of Onegin – depicted through a magical duet in John Cranko’s acclaimed 1965 version for Stuttgart Ballet –here became a hellish, rape scene. Big sigh.
Eifman has moved even further from his classical roots, a shift we saw with a nonsensical hip-hop sequence in 2007’s "The Seagull." For "Onegin," Eifman injected pallid jazz sequences for the pouting corps de ballet. The ballet’s second half crawled with a thin narrative and repetitious choreographic sequences.
Eifman’s Amazon actor-dancers never gave less than 1,000% to his idiosyncratic vision. Accomplished and beautiful, they dressed up Eifman’s brutish style with their filigreed technique.
Gabyshev convincingly transformed Onegin from haughty to broken man. Fisher was outstanding, whether he was crawling across the floor, or jumping without warning into split leaps. Povoroznyuk and Sergei Volobuev gave heft to their supporting parts, the latter in the expanded role of the blind Colonel whom Tatyana marries.
The ballet’s real star was Abashova, a brave ballerina who flung herself into every perilous lift and acting absurdity with unsullied grace.