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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg - Red Giselle

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 14, 2007
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
About the Author:


Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
Thirtieth Anniversary
(Eifman Ballet/Ardani Artists Website)
Boris Eifman, Artistic Director
Sergei Danilian and
Ardani Artists Management, Inc., Producer

At City Center
(City Center Website)

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

Soloists: Maria Abashova, Elena Kuzmina, Natalia Povorozniuk,
Anastassia Sitnikova, Nina Zmievets, Yuri Ananyan,
Dmitry Fisher, Oleg Gabyshev, Andrey Kasyanenko,
Ivan Kozlov, Oleg Markov, Yuri Smekalov

Press: Ellen Jacobs Associates
Some Eifman Ballet Program Notes:

Boris Eifman, Artistic Director, Choreographer, and Director, has created over 40 ballets. He 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", plus the one-act "Musagète" for New York City Ballet. "Anna Karenina?" was Eifman's last NY production at City Center. (Program Notes).
(See an Exclusive Interview with Boris Eifman).

Red Giselle (1997): Music by Peter Tchaikovsky, Alfred Schnittke, George Bizet, Choreography by Boris Eifman, Set Design by Slava Okunev, Performed by Nina Zmievets as Ballerina, Oleg Markov as Teacher, Ivan Kozlov as Secret Police Agent, Yuri Smekalov as Partner, Anton Labunskas as Friend. Taking place in Revolutionary Petrograd, a ballet teacher chooses his favorite student, whose performance admirer is 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, a ballet often staged by ABT. The ballerina suffers the fate of the ballet character she has personified, unrequited love and madness, and mirrors show her salvation through madness, the world beyond the mirror. (Program Notes)

Olga Spessivtseva is the 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 Nina Zmievets was Giselle (the Red is for Bolshevik or Communist), and she breathed life into Ms. Spessivtseva's legend and memory. In fact, Ms. Zmievets looked like the true Giselle, with hair in a bun, dressed in a long white tutu with her Wili wings.

There was no Adolphe Adam score here, but rather Tchaikovsky, Bizet, and Schnittke, as Eifman presents the Russian Imperial structure as artistic and aggressive, with a commanding teacher (Oleg Markov) and brute, rapacious KGB agent (Ivan Kozlov). 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. She also dances with a floating head, as the agent peeks through the green curtain, moving behind the material in unforgettable surrealness.

Also surreal is a large red drape that the Ballerina uses for all too brief yet stunning effect. Slava 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. 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. Ivan Kozlov, as The Agent, seemed to possess superhuman hormones and strength, as he catapulted Ms. Zmievets en air, onstage, and about his torso, in intertwining intensity. Yuri Smekalov, as The Partner, had an edge of sexual ambiguity; as Albrecht, he more than noticed his attendant 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.

Boris Eifman has 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. (See Eifman 2007 Touring Schedule).
Eifman's Red Giselle

Eifman's Red Giselle

Photo © & courtesy of Dmitry Solobev


Eifman's Red Giselle

Eifman's Red Giselle

Photo © & courtesy of Dmitry Solobev

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