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Flash Review 2, 5-14: From St. Pete, with Love
Eifman's Life-affirming Epic Extravaganza

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg gave the premiere of Boris Eifman's latest ballet, "Don Juan and Moliere," at City Center Friday. The production, over-the-top in every way, was a Mannerist carnival comprising frenzied dance, hundreds of bedazzling costumes and sets (both by Slava Okunev) and lighting that would make Kiss jealous. Every movement was designed for maximum dramatic impact, and the cast possessed the talent and skills necessary to successfully bring to life Eifman's exaggerated vision.

The story interwove the lives of playwright Moliere and male archetype Don Juan. Scenes alternated between Don Juan's rapacious escapades and Moliere's soul-searching, following both men's descent to doom. The ballet's premise, while careering all over the place, set forth some cunning identity swapping and a good reason for wildly theatrical set design. Scenes set in a nunnery and church were reminders of the dramatic potential and theatrical draw of organized religion. Just add a little fog and some raking spotlights.

Eifman's vocabulary of modern ballet is distinctive. He adores a beautiful long line, exemplified by Alexei Turko as Don Juan, sporting sleekly crafted extra-long boots. The phrasing sometimes tipped toward the gymnastic, built around one dynamic gesture, otherwise stopping and starting. He also cobbled together complex puzzles where the dancers would not so much move through a phrase as click from pose to pose in the most clever ways, as in a trio involving a sturdy table. (He favors banal props, like ordinary-looking furniture, used inventively.) Eifman uses the body fearlessly; a man picks up a woman by using her leg like a pry bar, levering her weight. As Moliere, Igor Markov had the most complex acting role, which he carried out elegantly, adding to his fine dancing. Yelena Kuzmina (Madeleine and Elvira) wrung every bit out of her fallen nun part in a duet with Turko.

There are things about Eifman's ballets that get under my skin. He freely grabs pieces of music (in this case Berlioz and Mozart, representing Moliere and Don Juan, respectively) and sticks them together, so there are sudden bits of famous compositions that by themselves could command the theater. Eifman's predilection for the epic, dramatic moment is too frequent, reducing each huge scene's impact. And I would find his complicated, pose-to-pose phrases similarly more interesting mixed in with more lyricism for relief. But when the final curtain fell, there was no doubt I'd been treated to a life-affirming theatrical extravaganza.

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