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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg


by Kathy Lee Scott

May 20, 2009 -- Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

Russia's preeminent choreographer, Boris Eifman, continues to move further from his classical beginnings and explore the emotional side of humanity. At the Southern California premier of his latest creation based on the Russian classic, "Eugene Onegin," by Alexander Pushkin, Eifman abandoned pointe shoes altogether. However, his dancers still rose high on their demi-pointes as if they were lifting onto their toes.

Using selections of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's melodies, alternated with electronic music pieces by Alexander Sitkovetsky,  Eifman transported Pushkin's characters into 20th century Russia, where a 1991 revolution unites three main men: Onegin (Oleg Gabyshev), Lensky (Dmitry Fisher) and the Colonel (Sergei Volobuev). Each took a turn as soloist, but Fisher's solo seemed lost among the corps who filled the stage as jubilant revolutionaries.

An adage pas de deux between Onegin and Lensky to a Tchaikovsky excerpt featured smooth transitions between the men as they pulled, pushed, supported each other in the modern moves. They stretched their legs long, interlocked their attitudes and rolled on the stage, depicting their closeness as friends and compatriots. In a short scene, the men help the Colonel, who was blinded during the jubilation.

After the revolution, Lensky and Onegin journey to a seaside town where Lensky's lady love, Olga (Natalia Povoroznyuk), awaits him. Introduced to her sister, the shy Tatyana (Maria Abashova), Onegin charms the girl, who falls hopelessly in love with him. Afraid to commit, Onegin teases Tatyana and encourages her affection, then dismisses her. One brilliant move demonstrates Onegin's opinion: while he kisses Tatyana's hand, he keeps his other hand in his pocket.  The difference between the tentative couple and the committed one heightens the tragedy of the former as Olga and Lensky (Povoroznyuk and Fisher) portray joy and happiness in their intertwining lifts and turns.

In a break from the intense coupling, Eifman features his corps moving in slow motion, first the men as a group, then the women, before pairing them off. The scene includes an impressive lift: a girl balances on a man's bent inner elbow and lifts her leg in battement.

Tatyana and Onegin's attraction-repulsion continues until she writes him a heartfelt letter expressing her feelings for him. He coldly tosses it to the ground in front of her.  Tatyana is further devastated when Olga and Lensky again dance together, close and thrilled with each other. The couple ends in an embrace on a bench, Tatyana near but alone.

This scene segues into a disturbing dream Tatyana has, in which she's taken to a demonic ball lit in red. Among the attendees is Onegin, who dances a pas de deux with her. He uses his foot to lift hers; he lifts her by her second-position demi-pliéd legs. He pulls her along the stage by her foot, then balances himself above her on the floor. After a simulated rape, Onegin carries her back to her bed, and Tatyana awakens.  Although the sequence tended toward more nightmare than dream, Gabyshev and Abashova matched each other well in intensity and fluidity.

On Tatyana's name day, Onegin attempts to seduce Olga, enraging Lensky. A fight between them ends with Onegin stabbing Lensky, who dies in Olga's arms.

Act Two opens as Onegin hides, eventually making his way to a secret place. There, he succumbs to guilt about killing his friend over a mere girl. And he realizes that he did love Tatyana as a soul mate. He curses himself for rejecting her. Olga and Tatyana grieve over Lensky's death, but life goes on. The pair go to a bar, where men immediately approach the prettier Olga. One who tries to talk to Tatyana scares her, and she bumps into the blind Colonel. Now a rich man, he showers Tatyana with luxuries and proposes to her. She accepts.

In a fast sequence of scenes, some of the corps wheel Tatyana in a bathtub, scrubbing her and making her presentable. One corps man becomes a flaming hair dresser and also a dress designer who flings material and scissors around Tatyana during her rides across the stage.

Onegin dances a pas de deux with the ghost of Lensky, which reveals the former's deep regret for his actions. While Lensky's ghost insists on interacting with his murderer, Onegin tries to escape but cannot. They twirl each other by their necks, carry one another on shoulders and support each other in the most balletic sequence of the evening.

The Colonel and Tatyana become society's superstars, hosting balls. During one formal dance, Onegin arrives and greets his old friend, the Colonel. When introduced to his wife, Onegin is surprised to see Tatyana. He tells her that he regrets how he treated her and wants a second chance. But it's too late. Afterward Onegin dreams a terrifying scene where the Colonel knifes him as he knifed Lensky, Onegin awakes and realizes his desire for Tatyana will never be fulfilled.

Supporting the principals, the corps members were in turn energetic and sensuous. As a group, they captivated with their organic, writhing cluster. Yet each showed a personality of his own when the scene called for it.

Olga Schaishmelaschvili and Pyotr Okunev designed beautiful '20s-inspired dresses for the corps women in the Act 2 ballroom scene. Wearing bobbed black wigs, the women waltzed with their partners to Tchaikovsky's opera, "Eugene Onegin's" most famous melody.

The company gave three bows to a standing ovation, definitely a hit with Orange County crowds.

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