Eifman Ballet

May 29, 2009

Eifman Ballet
New York City Center, NYC

May 29–31, 2009

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Dmitry Fisher and Natalia Povoroznyuk in Eifman’s
Onegin. Photo by Valentin Baranovsky, courtesy Eifman Ballet.


Has the American public’s taste finally aligned with Boris Eifman’s work? Onegin (based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel) is the most recent of his choreographic epics to be presented in New York by his St. Petersburg-based company, Eifman Ballet. The structure follows his previous ballets—many short scenes separated by blackouts—not dissimilar to a Broadway show. In fact, even his choreographic style, with its sky-high kicks, frenetic pacing, and explosive showiness, evokes dance more akin to the TV show So You Think You Can Dance than traditional ballet. The striated lighting, fog effects, and dramatic set (by Zinovy Margolin), including videos projected on a disc, also evoke musical theater. (Coincidentally, the bridge set echoes Broadway’s current production of West Side Story.)

As he did with Hamlet and Red Giselle, Eifman transposes a classic story into modern times. Group dances are set in “discos” and dance halls, to guitar-heavy rock by Alexander Sitkovetsky or Tchaikovsky. Onegin (Oleg Gabyshev) and his friend Lensky (Dmitry Fisher) meet sisters Tatyana (Maria Abashova) and Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk). The latter and Lensky make a passionate pair, abruptly ended by his violent death at Onegin’s hand. Meanwhile, Onegin takes Tatyana’s devotion for granted until she leaves him for the Colonel (Sergei Volobuev), a charismatic Che-style revolutionary leader. Eifman favors dancers with elongated limbs, small heads, and pliant feet. The sweet-faced Abashova is a perfect example; when silhouetted on the bridge, her outline is hyper-ideal. And her convincing acting adds depth that other dancers  lack.

The choppy sequences—much punctuation and little prose—serve the audience’s eagerness to applaud frequently, and the story line can still be traced from scene to scene. But they mainly provide a reason for many angst-ridden solos that blur together, or duets including leveraged lifts made to seem effortless. It takes some work to adjust to the score that veers between proper and wild, but this is presumably just the result that Eifman strives for. In addition, the rapid scene shifts quench our ever-shrinking attention spans.

The group scenes are particularly powerful, whether the dancers are neatly paired off or milling about zombie-like (depending on the costumes by Olga Schaishmelaschvili and Pyotr Okunev). Add some fog, and these segments in particular evoke the exaggerated hybrid style so prevalent on TV. But rather than the hip-swiveling vulgarity of this popular dance style, Eifman deploys to the fullest extent the dancers’ sinuous lines and curvaceous legs and feet. Should he ever be invited, he would make an ideal choreographer for TV, where he just might garner a huge audience. Or he might find a niche on Broadway, where many a laurelled choreographer has excelled.