Adapted by Boris Eifman
From the play by Anton Chekhov
Performed by Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
March 7-11 (Anna Karenina March 10-11)
Cal Performances, Berkeley
The Kirov it isn’t. St. Petersburg’s “other” ballet troupe, named for and headed up by choreographer Boris Eifman, is quite another cup of tea, albeit from the same samovar. No less warming on a chill late-winter evening, but decidedly different. There is fine technique and impeccable pointe work, yes, but there also is a lot of tortuous writhing, robot-like jerking and an exuberant hip-hop number for the male corps that darn near steals the show. Eifman’s dance vocabulary is eclectic, to say the least, but always interesting to watch.
The plot of this dramatic “story ballet” is pretty interesting as well. Having had success with his dance adaptation of “Anna Karenina,” seen in Berkeley last year and scheduled to close out the current engagement, Eifman unveils his version of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” in a world premiere on the Zellerbach Hall stage. But don’t look for any 19th century Russian country estates here. This version takes place in and around a ballet studio (no credit for the stunning and adaptable post-modern set is given in the program) and the time is the present day. The story also has been updated and telescoped, making it comprehensible to those who do not know Chekhov, as well as the cognoscenti who do. The music is a pastiche of electronic, hip hop, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff – heavy on the Rachmaninoff -- which complements the emotional excesses of the plot. That plot, by the way, couldn’t be more Russian: all the wrong people are in love with all the wrong people and the outcome is so tragic, m’dear.
Instead of the usual triangle, Eifman/Chekov presents us with a rectangle. Trigorin (an elegant and autocratic Yuri Smelakov) is the arrogant choreographer de jour, his position enhanced by his passionate attachment to prima ballerina Arkadina (the wraith-like Nina Zmievets who is mesmerizing whenever she is onstage, just like her namesake in the play). Arkadina’s younger rival, both on the stage and for Trigorin’s affections is Zarechnaya (Maria Abashova). The final – and key – element is the young Treplev, an innovative choreographer who takes the place of Arkadina’s son in the play. Actually, he may be her son here too, or a protégé, extremely needy and constantly vying for her attention. Dmitri Fisher, wearing blue jeans and executing Eifman’s fluid movements for the boy with high adolescent angst is really the star of the show. Henceforth he will be known as The Boy and he is, in turn, madly in unrequited love with the young rival ballerina, from now on known as The Girl.
The Boy has crafted a ballet about an injured seagull. He convinces The Girl to perform it for the self-absorbed Arkadina, who actually falls asleep midway through. The Girl rejects The Boy’s eager advances but falls gladly into the arms of Trigorin. The older man leads the young ballerina in a lesson that is a lot like making love and, eventually, that’s exactly what they do. This leaves The Boy and his mother/mentor out in the cold. But Trigorin has a conscience and he tries to console the grieving Boy in a pas de deux that has faint homo-erotic overtones. And then he goes back to Arkadina. Now The Boy and The Girl are both desolate.
And so it goes, with Trigorin torn between the two women (and, perhaps, The Boy) until he eventually breaks down utterly. Arkadina is similarly torn between her lover and her son (but her real love is the audience). In the end, the Boy goes back into the confining box from which he escaped to begin the show. The message – occasionally driven home rather hard with a repetitive flapping of an arm – is that we all are wounded seagulls. Sad message, terrific dancing!