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Flash Review 2, 5-3: Dreaming of Tchaikovsky
Eifman Probes His Mystery in SanFran

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2000 Aimee Ts’ao

SAN FRANCISCO -- It should come as no surprise that Russians like their ballets BIG (in their language the word is "Bolshoi"). In the current international repertory, no less than four of the best-known ballets are danced to music composed by Russians: "Nutcracker," "Swan Lake," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Romeo and Juliet" (Prokofiev and before him, Tchaikovsky). Only "Giselle" falls into French hands. The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, which opened at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater last night with "Tchaikovsky, the Mystery of Life and Death," is still in the lineage of Russian ballet, despite having incurred the wrath of Soviet authorities for being too radical, and furthers the notion that having lots of gorgeous music justifies dancing for dancing's sake, even when the drama is wearing thin.

Last night at the Palace, Boris Eifman's company offered, in addition to the ballet mentioned above, the bizarre opportunity to think for a moment that you'd woken up in a dream/nightmare, as 95% of the audience was speaking Russian. Except for a handful of San Francisco Ballet people, a former ballet master of the Oakland Ballet and some critics, I could have been at the Maryinsky. During intermission I spoke with a pianist from St. Petersburg who used to play for class and whose daughter had seen the Eifman company many times back in the old country. She wondered why they had brought "Tchaikovsky," when "Red Giselle," "Hamlet," and "The Karamazovs" were clearly so much better, and hoped I hadn't formed a negative opinion of his choreography based on one of his weakest pieces.

What Eifman does well, he does extremely well. He deftly moves crowds of dancers on and off stage, and out of the chaos a solo dancer magically appears. His steps are clear and never rushed, so that you experience the full impact of the visual shapes. He employs motifs, which he repeats and layers. The partnering flows from lift, to swirl, to pose so smoothly and effortlessly. Unfortunately this evocation of Tchaikovsky's torment and madness stretches too little material over too much music. Had Eifman condensed the piece to 40 minutes instead of two acts taking more than double the amount of time it would have kept me engaged. The subjects at hand require a lot of intense dramatization, but I often feel the dancers push so hard that the potential for subtle nuances is lost, making it difficult to identify with them as suffering human beings as they have become near caricatures. At certain moments, though, the burning intensity of the dancers does succeed in conveying desperation and frustration. Alena Podavalova, making her debut as Madame von Meck, is able to maintain human proportions without sacrificing any importance in relation to the other characters. Both Albert Galichanin as Tchaikovsky and Igor Markov as his double danced well and for the most part provided the needed emotional wallop. The Prince, Sergei Zimin, is the weakest link and seems out of his depth technically and dramatically.

With tickets selling for $35-$55, you might consider waiting until Eifman's better works come around, but if money is no object, and your expectations are realistic, then go. The Eifman Ballet repeats May 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. in San Francisco, then continues its tour to Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Colorado Springs.

 

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