Interview with Boris Eifman, Artistic Director and Choreographer, Eifman Ballet
Interview with Boris Eifman
By Phone from Chicago and Boston
Translator: Sergei Danilian
(Ardani Artists/Eifman Ballet Website)
(See Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina Press Release and Photos)
May 19, 2005
Mr. Eifman had just returned to his hotel from a morning of last-minute logistics for the Boston performance of his newest ballet, Anna Karenina. Speaking through his translator and associate, Sergei Danilian, he graciously answered all of my questions with friendliness and a dry sense of humor.
SW: I found some biographical notes that said you wanted to be a choreographer when you were just thirteen years old. I'm wondering where this precocious direction came from. Most teens are so flooded with hormones, they can't even think straight, much less make a life-long career choice.
BE: It's true; it's really at a very early age, the age of thirteen. I was very much interested in choreography, in dance. And it's interesting because I was living in an atmosphere which has no connection with any art, any dance. Everybody around me was against my interest to dance. But I moved against everybody and decided to be a choreographer. I was moved with my very big wish to do so. For me, it was like it came from God.
SW: I think for any young person to have a clue about their life beyond the immediate moment is amazing. You may have had to do a lot of things on your own without a lot of support. I also read that in the early years you were able to survive with your troupe just on box office returns because the government would not give you subsidies. The public must have been starved for something you gave them. What do you think that was?
BE: I will talk about my first ten years with the company during the Soviet regime. Well, of course, it was a fight for survival. In my first years with the company, I discovered a new way, a new direction for dance, but it was not fitted in the traditions of the Soviet ballet. It was a fight for the right to be a free artist in a country of the Soviet regime. But after Perestroika, I was able to open new possibilities for free creations.
Those new possibilities gave me the opportunity to build my own company at a very high quality and a different level, to create different pieces where I felt myself free. And of course, it gave me the opportunity to show my productions all around the world. It was the beginning of new life for me and for my company.
SW: It must have been energizing and stimulating to you.
BE: I was already 40, and for me it was like I was reborn!
SW: I've always heard that conductors of symphonies have great longevity. I'm going to expect this also of you, that you'll have great longevity in your art, with this second birth.
You were enabled to go on world tours. When people hear "Eifman Ballet" they expect something particular. What is it you give people around the world that other companies don't?
BE: I think people expect different feelings, different emotions which are possible to express with the human body. We are showing people around the world that the human body has not only esthetic beauty, but also the body is a very strong information channel.
What is open in the human body is a lot of emotions, a lot of internal passions, a specialness that is grown from heart to heart. And that special, musical, emotional body expresses [itself to] people throughout the world. That's what I'm thinking people like, because people leaving after our performances, they're changed emotionally.
SW: How can you tell that?
BE: They are accumulating our energy, our emotions to themselves. I think that's one of the reasons people continue to come back and see it one more time. They're always waiting for us.
SW: Was it always this way, I wonder, when you were choreographing for television programs and ice shows in the beginning? How do you think you've evolved?
BE: I've always been a perfectionist. My permanent wish for perfection opened new possibilities of the human body. The body's language is understandable for everybody. It is a universal language. I'm happy God gave me such an ability to learn that special language and to express this high information to people.
SW: I'm looking at a picture of Vronsky and Anna from Anna Karenina and he's carrying her, stiff as a board, looking like a piece of baggage. Is that what you mean when you say, the human body has possibilities?
BE: This is the combination of two bodies, which is giving you the symbol of the relationship between a man and a woman.
SW: You make your audience work a little bit, don't you?
BE: The presence of the emotional soul is not so rational. It's more emotional. Such emotions touch the heart and the brain.
SW: Would you like your audience to store away everything they know about psychology and just feel?
BE: My theater is for the people and for me it's very important that my audience is also the co-creator of my productions. Of course different audiences in different countries look at my productions differently. The depth for each audience is different, how deep they go into feeling what they see. My audiences absolutely have different levels to understanding me and my art. But it doesn't matter. In any level of my art, I have to find the context, because any attendee who bought a ticket must feel an unforgettable emotional impression.
SW: It sounds like a totally engaging experience.
BE: You probably are right about the audiences who love me. A lot of the feeling stuck with them from the beginning, 30 years ago when I started my company. Only the love of the audience saved my company from the pressure of the authorities. They saved my company from bureaucrats!
SW: Do people fall in love with you all the time?
BE: That's my relationship with my audience! Of course I'm not a cat in your lap. I'm a tiger! You're talking about my audience, and that's what I feel.
SW: Some of the stories you've taken recently are massive stories: Karamazovs, Russian Hamlet, Anna Karenina. A lot of the characters seem very tortured, and divided, and secretive. What attracts you about these massive themes, which seem to be recurring?
BE: They're all extreme situations in which I'm putting my heroes. They help me to answer some very important philosophical questions about human life, about people who live today. I'm proud that I was able to spread ballet art because dance art is not only esthetically beautiful, and gives you emotions, but also, the art of dance can be philosophical. Through such massive material as we're talking about, literature, the historical, it helps me to realize the art of dance is not only esthetically beautiful, but philosophically deep.
SW: Do you look for a particular kind of dancer, or qualities to make up your troupe to be able to express this?
BE: Of course with my dancers, it takes time to make them a dancer of my company. But we'll never take a dancer into the company if he only has dance technique. If his esthetics and technique don't fit in our company, of course we're not going to take him. We have our own criteria to pick dancers. It's a competition. My assistant travels all around Russia, to the other schools, to find dancers who can match. That's why we can say today, the tallest company, the tallest dancers in the world are in my company! The most beautiful! Very talented! They're all actors!
SW: I did notice from the publicity stills the dancers seem to be unusually long and lean, even for dancers.
BE: Dance is a line. It's all a dance of the line. The choreography is a dance of line.
SW: I also saw that some of the principal dancers or soloists have a background in choreography.
BE: Yes, several of my dancers are studying choreography and are preparing themselves to be choreographers in the future. And I'm supporting them very much.
SW: A lot of people would find it competition instead of being proud to be a mentor. What are you most satisfied with, particularly in your production of Anna Karenina?
BE: The new level in the freedom to create in my choreography. I think I found the right movement, the right choreography to express my heroes.
SW: When you say, "the right movement," there are so many variations of all of the great ballets. And each one is a little different. Its choreographer wants to put their stamp….
BE: I don't think we should think exactly about some new movements. I think we should think more about someone's impression of the movements, how the choreography comes across to the audience. So, Anna Karenina, it's a very synergistic, very harmonious production, where everything, all together and separately, is at a very high level: choreography, costumes, lighting. The whole production's a harmony of high quality.
When I'm talking about Anna Karenina, I would prefer not to think only about the choreography. When we talk about Anna Karenina we should think about production. I think Anna Karenina is my best production in my 30 years, almost my entire career.
SW: We've already said you're going to have great longevity, so if this is your best, it's going to get even better as we go through the next 30 years.
BE: What you have to understand is, each success, it's the success of today. Tomorrow you have to start from the beginning. We're thinking about coming back in 2007 to Chicago. I have to come back and prove to my audience that we are the company who really achieved that success in Chicago. Today, when I look at the success of Anna Karenina, I have to prepare myself for the new production of 2007.
SW: What are you doing to prepare yourself?
BE: My business is very clear in show business. All the dirty jobs in the production I leave to Sergei here. I'm just creating! (They both laugh!)
SW: Sergei, you're a lovely man too.
BE: I understood when we opened yesterday in Boston, Anna Karenina, was a success for me. But I don't think that's the limit of my possibilities, either for me, or my company, or my theater. If I would think: That's it! I would have to stop now because Anna Karenina is so successful. I'd just have to build a bronze monument for myself!
I have to move forward. I'm thinking my best ballet productions are still ahead. It's helped me to prepare myself for my next work.
SW: When people hear: Boris Eifman's coming to town, what do you want them to think?
BE: I would like the audience in Chicago, my fans who love my work, and the part of the audience who has never been to my performances, to come and get an unforgettable impression of what we are doing. Come and see what I loved for 40 years of my life.
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg comes to Chicago to perform the ballet, Anna Karenina (Eifman/Tchaikovsky): June 16-19, 2005, Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, (312) 922-2110 x0.
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg comes to New York to perform the ballet, Anna Karenina (Eifman/Tchaikovsky): May 24-29, 2005, New York City Center. Performances at 8pm, May 24 through May 29, plus matinees at 2pm on May 28 and 3 pm on May 29. Call CityTix(r) 212.581.1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org
Photo courtesy of Aleksandr Vengerov