Exploring human emotions on tiptoes
Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, the revolutionary Russian dance company whose performances are in stark contrast to classical ballet troupes like Bolshoi and Kirovthey, will make its debut on the Chinese mainland with two thrilling performances at the Great Hall of the People on Friday and Saturday.
Participating in the Third Beijing International Dance Festival, which opens on Thursday, Eifman Ballet will stage "Tchaikovsky: The Mystery of Life and Death" on Friday and "Russian Hamlet: The son of Catherine the Great" on Saturday.
Although both titles may sound familiar to theatre-goers, the theatre's unique performances are miles from the well-known classic Russian ballet troupes. The company has adopted a style that combines avant-garde dance with methods of the 20th century dramatic theatre and film to create more extroverted pieces like those by Roland Petit and Maurice Bejart.
"Tchaikovsky: The Mystery of Life and Death" explores the great dilemma of the Russian composer, who craved acceptance and regard, yet was drawn to his inner desires that both appalled and enthralled him.
Boris Eifman, choreographer of the ballet, as well as founder and director of the company, depicts Tchaikovsky and his inner torments, among them repressed homosexuality and his conflicting desires for fame and rebellion.
Eifman smoothly knits together themes from Tchaikovsky's best-known orchestral, ballet and opera music, blending narrative themes of the composer's life, though choreography from such Tchaikovsky ballet classics as "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" are absent.
Meanwhile, the ballet "Russian Hamlet: The Son of Catherine the Great" is based very loosely on the story of Prince Paul, the unhappy son of Catherine the Great, and Czar of Russia. It sets Paul's innocence and vulnerability to corruption and domination by his mother and her debauched court.
There always seems to be some sort of complex issue running between mother and son, and this story gives Eifman a big chance to incorporate psychoanalysis.
Eifman gives his view of Paul through his choreography and somehow rehabilitates the prince.
"Personally I am sympathetic to him. Hamlet's mother loved her son; Paul hated and feared her. It is a fact that Paul thought he saw the ghost of his murdered father, Peter III. He was not mad, but he imagined things and when he became Czar, he stayed in that fantasy world.
"He couldn't battle his genetic make-up. ... He was harsh and difficult to deal with, but that was also because he wanted to advance his ideas too quickly, to achieve progress in Russia," said the choreographer.
"Catherine saw Paul as her son, but she also saw him as the man who wanted to take her power. And to explore this in my ballet, I had to find movement that would suggest Catherine's strong personality, but also the many conflicting feelings she had inside her."
For the score of Act One, Eifman chooses Beethoven's First, Third, Sixth and Seventh Symphonies plus Egmont Overture and Piano Sonata No 14, because, as he explained, "Beethoven's music suggests the power, the energy and the heroic feeling of the Russian empire, and also because Catherine and Paul had German blood."
The ballet is less a historical piece, however, than it is an imagistic study of a dysfunctional relationship told through dancing.
Many Russian historians would dispute Eifman's notions of Paul a tyrant by almost anyone's definition is of little concern to him. His ballets are not designed to be an exploration of historical truth, but the emotional truth of the characters he has created, he said.
"I am not interested in an illustration of history or an external story," he added. "I want to show how Paul's light personality becomes degraded, how he broke under the pressure of his mother, her decomposing environment and espionage. Prince Paul was gifted with a surprising capacity of imagination. His world of surprising fantasies encouraged me to create this performance. This is a world that only ballet can express."
Both works that Eifman Ballet brings to Beijing exemplify a kind of amalgamation of reality and fantasy, which is one of Eifman's strongest emotional methods in choreography.
"My theatre is a theatre of open emotional experience. Creating my mystery where the characters live by my rules, I'm creating my own world with its catastrophes. This is my own cardiogram, the rhythm of my pulse, its eruptions, shocks, culminations, ups and downs," said Eifman, who is acclaimed as a philosopher in choreography.
He experiments with such dark and dangerous spheres as the human psyche, and many of his ballets become examples of scenic psychoanalysis. He strives to show extreme conditions of a human being, considering madness not a disease but an ability to transfer to the worlds of fantasies and mirages.
Born in 1946 in Siberia where his parents had been exiled, Eifman enrolled in the choreography department of the Leningrad Conservatory when he was 20 and then became the choreographer of the Vaganova Academy, the Kirov Ballet's school.
In 1977, he founded Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, and managed to sustain its artistic and financial independence alongside such State-run companies as the Bolshoi and the Kirov.
From the start, Eifman had a very specific mission to revolutionize the concept of classical dance in Russia by integrating elements of modern dance, avant-garde dramatic theatre and the montage aspects of film.
"All my artistic life I wanted to give a new possibility to dance," Eifman said. "I wanted to prove that it can explain very deep human emotions, that it can be a message from the soul and the psyche, and that it also can express very deep philosophical ideas."
(China Daily 01/09/2006 page5)
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