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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary with "Red Giselle" at NY City Center
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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary with "Red Giselle" at NY City Center

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Ardani Artists Presents:

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
40th Anniversary

Boris Eifman, Artistic Director

At New York City Center
(NY City Center Website)

Red Giselle
In Tribute to Olga Spessivtseva
(Spessivtseva Bio)
Choreography by Boris Eifman

Maria Abashova, Lyubov Andreyeva, Lilia Lishchuk
Natalia Povoroznyuk, Dmitry Fisher, Oleg Gabyshev
Dmitry Krylov, Oleg Markov
Igor Subbotin, Sergey Volobuev

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 3, 2017

Some Eifman Ballet Program Notes:
Boris Eifman, Artistic Director, Choreographer, and Director, has won all the highest awards in the arts in Russia and was inducted into France’s Order of Arts and Letters. Eifman is known to fuse classic ballet with contemporary choreography and is fascinated with the magic of genius and the realm of the human psyche. Eifman stresses the theatrical impact of his productions, one ruled by emotions.

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg has been geared for a continuous, creative process. Eifman has produced ballets to rock music, and he has also created ballets about Tchaikovsky and Moliere. He emphasizes psychoanalysis through movement and the energy of mass action scenes. Eifman has also designed ballets around Shakespearean theater, such as “Russian Hamlet” and “The Twelfth Night”. (Program Notes).

Red Giselle (1997): Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alfred Schnittke, George Bizet, Choreography by Boris Eifman, Sets and Costumes by Vyacheslav Okunev, Light by Boris Eifman, Performed by Maria Abashova as Ballerina, Oleg Markov as Teacher, Sergey Volobuev as Commissar, Oleg Gabyshev as Partner, Dmitry Fisher as Friend.

Taking place in Revolutionary Petrograd, a ballet teacher chooses his favorite student, whose performance admirer is a Commissar, a KGB agent, representing the new regime. This agent brings the ballerina to his will and his world, with mad, destructive mobs. Yet her spirit, inspired by her teacher, remain. She returns to the teacher, where a revolutionary spirit overwhelms the theatre. The ballerina and agent are bound with attraction-rejection contradictions, but he releases her to the émigrés. In Paris, the ballerina meets a famous, creative dance partner, and she loves him. He does not return the love, and she has a nervous breakdown. Paris cannot cure her demons, with the red flashbacks of revolution turning into nightmares about the agent. Her favorite dance role continues to be “Giselle”. The ballerina suffers the fate of the ballet character she has personified, unrequited love and mental breakdown, and mirrors show her salvation through madness, the world beyond the mirror. (Program Notes)

This ballet is dedicated to Olga Spessivtseva, a celebrated ballerina, renowned for her portrayal of Giselle, who left Russia for Paris and was institutionalized in an asylum after two of her own breakdowns. She had performed in the Mariinsky Ballet and with Diaghilev and later fell in love with Serge Lifar, who was gay. Ms. Spessivtseva died in 1991 at 96, in Rockland County’s Tolstoy Farm for Russian émigrés. Tonight Maria Abashova was Giselle (the Red is for Bolshevik or Communist), and she breathed life into Ms. Spessivtseva’s legend and memory. In fact, Ms. Abashova looked like the true Giselle, with hair in a bun, dressed in a long white tutu with her Wili wings.

There is a fleeting musical excerpt from the Adolphe Adam score, but mostly Tchaikovsky, Bizet, and Schnittke. Included in the score are bits of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings in C major”, “The Tempest”, “Manfred Symphony”, “Elegy”, Schnittke’s “Gogol Suite”, Bizet’s “L’Arlésienne Suites”, among other quoted compositions, in recordings. Eifman presents the Russian Imperial structure as artistic and aggressive, with a commanding teacher (Oleg Markov) and brute, rapacious Commissar (Sergey Volobuev). The Ballerina shifts loyalty from teacher, to agent, to Parisian premier danseur, never achieving self-control, self-awareness, or self-evolvement. The Ballerina is stuck in her fantasies and unrequited desires, both professional and emotional. She cannot resist the abusive agent or the devious dancer, and she allows them to cast a spell of mental implosion, as the Ballerina sees multiple images of herself gone mad in moving mirrors.

Also surreal is a large red drape that the Ballerina uses for all too brief yet stunning effect. Vyacheslav Okunev’s sets are dramatic and dynamic, quite in tune with the Eifman genre. Dancers in white costumes evoke the Wilis (fiancées who never married, died of a broken heart, and dance eternally on their graves, entrapping men who enter the forest, dancing them to death). But, the artistic comparison ends at the choreography. In fact, Eifman inserts a hip-hop rock dance, in a “class dance lesson” to illustrate “hip” capabilities. Eifman’s dancers use many levels, angular elbows, percussive ensemble work, knees, elbows, and bent heads. Petipa’s Wilis would bend in fluidity, where Eifman’s bend in flashes. The Ballerina’s ecstasy and pain are internalized, and her pas de deux with the teacher, the agent, and the dancer are all acrobatically brilliant, as she is held on high, upside down, carried aloft, and, unfortunately, subjected to violent, simulated sex.

The macabre partnering by all three male Soloists (as Principals are called) was driven and attentive, muscular, yet nuanced. Oleg Markov, as the Teacher, exuded confidence, pride, and affection. His performance as partner and class model was of bravura quality. Sergey Volobuev, as the Commissar, seemed to possess superhuman hormones and strength, as he catapulted Ms. Abashova en air, onstage, and about his torso, in intertwining intensity. Oleg Gabyshev, as the Partner, had an edge of sexual ambiguity; as Albrecht, he more than noticed his attendant (the Friend, Dmitry Fisher) in a rendering of Giselle, a ballet within a ballet. He also had an air of elusiveness and detachment, as he partnered the Ballerina for professional opportunism (She was quite a sensation in Paris) and beguiling betrayal.

Twenty years ago, Boris Eifman created a timeless ballet, one that can be analyzed and re-analyzed on each viewing. The storyline and sets and mesmerizing choreography are all worth revisiting and rethinking time and again. For those balletomanes with the traditional Giselle ingrained in their psyches, Red Giselle is truly fascinating for its similarities and differences, its subtle references, visual and contextual, and its pure sumptuous gestalt. Kudos to Boris Eifman, and kudos to Ardani Artists for bringing this production to New York.

Maria Abashova and Cast
in Eifman's "Red Giselle"
Courtesy of Evgeny Matveev

Maria Abashova and Oleg Markov
in Eifman's "Red Giselle"
Courtesy of Yulia Kudryashova

Maria Abashova and Oleg Gabyshev
in Eifman's "Red Giselle"
Courtesy of Evgeny Matveev

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at