Changing Chekhov

Boris Eifman

Boris Eifman

‘Every reader and theater-goer has his own image of Chekhov’s literary heritage,” says internationally acclaimed Russian choreographer Boris Eifman. “This ocean of human passions, solitude, despair and unrequited loves. What attracted me to The Seagull was the problematic bits of life in art: the collision between the new and the old, the generation gap, the price of the success, etc. It turned out that everything that preoccupied Chekhov is still relevant for me,” says the choreographer over the phone from St. Petersburg.

Eifman will be in in Israel next month to premiere his latest ballet, The Seagull, based on Anton Chekhov’s classic play.

Last year, the Eifman Ballet celebrated its 30th anniversary.

“For this occasion, I wanted to stage a new piece that would give me an opportunity to both keep developing my artistic language and to tell my personal story as the artist. The piece appeared to be close not only to me, but also to my dancers.”

Chekhov’s play dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters: the ingenue Nina, the fading leading lady Arkadina, her son, the experimental playwright Treplev, and the famous writer Trigorin.

Eifman has transferred the original story from a summer colony to a modern-day ballet studio, turning actors and writers into dancers and choreographers.

“Thus, we have four central characters: an established choreographer, Trigorin; and a revolutionary, Treplev; an ageing prima-ballerina Arkadina; and Nina, a young and ambitious girl from corps de ballet, eager to sacrifice her life on the altar of art in order to succeed. The result is the show, which is Chekhovian in its spirit and at the same time tells the story of my theater.”

Speaking about the artistic language of the show, Eifman says that it includes every idiom of 20th century dance. “Mine are universal artists, meaning that within a few minutes they are able to switch from classical to modern and even to hip-hop,” he accentuates.

Eifman, who studied both choreography and musicology, is known for his ability to translate music into movement in the most subtle and precise manner.

“I have opted for Sergey Rachmaninov’s music, which describes the characters’ tumultuous and tortured spirits. Also, special electronic music was commissioned to a young Russian composer, Leonid Yeremin, to depict the strange, mystic and broken world of Treplev.”

EIFMAN’S PERSONAL story is far from usual. Born in Siberia into a family of engineers, he later moved to the drowsy town of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, before finally settling in St. Petersburg, where he completed his studies. Already at an early age he realized that choreography was the only thing he was interested in.

“This was strange, because nothing in my immediate surroundings suggested it. This was not like growing up in St. Petersburg, with its immensely rich cultural tradition, which you simply breathe in with the air.

“Yet it is not strange – I believe that the God chose me, and since then I have dedicated my life to the mission of translating the elusive movements of the human spirit into the language of human body.”

Despite the international success of his ballets and an ongoing fight with the conservative Soviet arts authorities, the choreographer, who admits that he considered immigrating to the West, lives and works in St. Petersburg. He calls it “a very special city, where I still feel the spiritual presence of generations of the artists who suffered and created there. And my Jewish heritage adds additional color to my artistry, making me different from the others.”

So what about the personal touch he gave to The Seagull? Who among the choreographers represents Eifman?

“Granted, I am an established artist with a lot of successful productions behind me, so in a way I am Trigorin. But every time that I enter the ballet studio, I realize that I know nothing. While working on the new piece, I was happy to find out that the young choreographer who desperately looks for a new ballet language is still alive inside me.”

The Seagull will be presented January 5, 6 and 7 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, January 11 at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem, and January 12 at the Haifa Convention Center. Anna Karenina, based on Tolstoy’s novel, will be presented January 8, 9 and 10 in Tel Aviv.
Dec. 30, 2008

And this is
my previous interview with Eifman

The body passionate
maxim reider , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 6, 2007

Leading Russian choreographer Boris Eifman brings his company back to Israel, this time with Anna Karenina, a piece he first premiered in New York three years ago, toured with throughout America, and re-staged in Manhattan last spring.

Known for dramatic – some say schmaltzy – works that merge classical and modern dance, Eifman has translated quite a few literary masterpieces into the language of ballet. Speaking from his Petersburg home, Eifman says his interest in psychoanalysis influenced his choice of material for his new piece, which strips the great novel of almost all its famous characters and sociological content to focus on the trio of beautiful Anna, her officer lover Vronsky and her anguished husband Karenin.

“In my search for the possibilities to express the subconscious by means of choreography, I realized that in this novel, Leo Tolstoy, long before Freud, presented a subtle and profound analysis of a woman’s inner world, of her hidden desires and dark passions, which ultimately lead to her tragic downfall. The almost banal triangle of husband, wife and lover gave me the chance to reveal the unknown in the familiar, to show the dark abyss into which this woman, erotically dependant on a man, falls.”

Eifman defines his new piece as the company’s latest bestseller, and believes it has proved popular “because by immersing spectators in the atmosphere of eroticism and sensuality, I show them that ballet is not only about the beauty of the human body and the esthetics of movement, but is also able to express human passions of all kinds. This demonstration of new possibilities of modern dance attracts thousands of ballet lovers. I tried to show that this story could have happened in any time, even in the present, because passion is timeless. The heroine not only loses control of herself, but discovers another personality in herself, one with its own desires. It is the impossibility of maintaining these two beings in one body that leads her to suicide. This drama is expressed through the language of the human body, which never lies, but neither has it any conscience.”

Eifman, who studied not only choreography but also piano and musicology, is known for his ability to read a score to its depth and merge it with dance in the most subtle, precise and often refreshing manner. For this show, he opted mostly for Tchaikovsky’s music, “fragments from symphonies and famous overtures like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet as well as some rarely performed pieces. But even the most familiar pieces sound different when supported by choreography, and I hope the audience will hear this music anew and realize the composer’s ability to express the most subtle human emotions.”

Electronic music especially composed for this production by Leonid Eremin sounds toward the end of the ballet, when Karenina’s world deteriorates.

“Even those critics who disliked the work found that Karenina is a new word in ballet – a psychoanalytical tool. These are new movements, new compositions of the dancers’ bodies,” says Eifman, who adds that he is unable to explain how he translates human emotions into stage movement.

“I see it as gift from above which you can develop but not analyze.”

The life story of Eifman, who sees choreography as a mission, is far from usual. Born in Siberia into a family of engineers, he later moved to the rather provincial town of Kishinev, capital of Soviet Moldova. There he decided to devote himself to ballet, “which was strange because nothing in my immediate milieu suggested it. It is not like growing up in Leningrad, where the very air is impregnated with culture. I just felt that I was chosen by God for this mission.”

As a young man, he traveled to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to study choreography. He created his company in 1977 and struggled with Soviet culture authorities to ensure its survival. Petersburg for him is a special place. “This city is special not only because of its amazing architecture, but because of the artistic energies which dwell here. Many generations of artists lived and created here, and I still feel their presence. Each time I return to Petersburg, I feel a creative urge rising inside me. During the hard times, I received quite a few offers to work in the West, but decided to stay. I am a citizen of the world, and am proud that I have preserved a dance theater in Petersburg, which continues the traditions of Russian classical ballet while still a part of world culture.”

Anna Karenina will be performed December 13, 15 and 16 at 9 p.m. and December 14 at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, December 17 at 8:30 p.m. at Haifa’s Convention Center and December 18 at 8:30 p.m. at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’uma


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