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Eifman's Jubilee: Russia's only modern ballet company celebrates 25 years of innovation.

THIS SEASON IS A JUBILEE FOR RUSSIAN MODERN BALLET TROUPE BORIS EIFMAN BALLET THEATRE (KNOWN IN THE UNITED STATES AS EIFMAN BALLET of St. Petersburg). On July 22 of last year, the renowned choreographer turned 55. Twenty-five years ago he didn't suspect that 1977 would be the most important year of his life--that autumn he was appointed to be the director of a small dance company under the auspices of Lenconcert, a Russian state concert presenter. Eifman immediately began revitalizing the troupe and creating his own repertoire.

It was in September that the new company presented its first performance, so the exact jubilee year for the company is 2002, but Eifman decided to celebrate the anniversary during the entire 2001-02 season. He plans for his company to perform his best creations of the past seven years during its U.S. tour this spring. In addition to the already familiar ballets, the repertoire includes the children's ballet Pinocchio, as well as Don Quixote, or The Fantasies of a Madman. (This is not just another staging of the old ballet, but a humorous, though poignant, ballet that mixes the familiar classic plot with Eifman's fantasies.) At New York's City Center, on March 27, one of the international ballet world's premier dancers, Vladimir Malakhov, will dance Tchaikovsky.

In Russia, this jubilee season began last summer. The company performed on some of the most prestigious stages: the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater and the Bolshoi in Moscow, and the Maryinsky and the Aleksandrinsky in St. Petersburg. Theaters were packed despite the heat and exorbitant ticket prices. A party atmosphere surrounded all the performances. In attendance were the minister of culture, Mikhail Shvydkoi, artists of other theatrical genres, and prominent Russian poets and musicians. The public enthusiastically applauded Eifman and his artists. After every performance the stage was filled with so many flowers that you would have thought you were at a world premiere. Every moment away from rehearsals was spent on press conferences and interviews. Reporters, cameramen, and photographers all followed Eifman from the minute he set foot in the theater. It was a triumphant kickoff.

At the end of July, the troupe began its performances in St. Petersburg. On the choreographer's birthday, the Maryinsky hosted the premiere of Eifman's new work, Don Juan & Moliere. After the premiere, Eifman celebrated his birthday at a nightclub,; where he was joined by friends, the theater elite, the mayor, and other high-ranking politicians, as well as international guests. A toast might have reflected on how favorably Eifman's life has worked out.

"I didn't choose my fate; fate chose me," he said. Born in Siberia, where his parents had been exiled, Eifman recognized his talent at a young age. His parents' punishment was a mark against him too (and all such other Russian citizens), and it could have stalled his career. But no one stood between Eifman's move to Leningrad and his graduating from the choreographic department of the Conservatory. Although the country was full of anti-Semitism, the Jewish Eifman did not encounter it frequently. As he has said, "The government viewed me as a potential emigrant and would not allow me out of the country, but in my circle [artistic, academic], there was no anti-Semitism."

After the Conservatory, Eifman staged an original version of the ballet Gayane, which remained in the repertoire of the Maly Theatre for twenty years. At the Leningrad School of Choreography he staged Firebird for the Kirov Ballet. It was rare for young choreographers to get such opportunities. The famous master Leonid Yakobson became the director of his troupe at 65; Eifman became director of his own theater at 30. In the center of classical Russian ballet, Leningrad, he created the first-ever Russian company of modern ballet, despite the Soviet view of art as a bomb that might be detonated under the system's foundation. The government kept a tight rein on creative artists. Choreographers such as Fyodor Lopukhov and Kasyan Goleizovsky were banned by the early Soviet government because of the originality of their choreographic creations. Eifman was lucky: He arrived on the scene toward the end of the empire. Although his ballets were viewed by the cultural controllers as suspicious, the Soviet power got weaker and his company survived.

After the collapse of the Soviet regime in the early 1990s, Eifman went through a creative maelstrom. He created his best works, such as Tchaikovsky and The Karamazovs, one after the other. Eifman not only mastered his fate,but like other gifted artists, he was the voice of his generation, the voice of hope. Soviet ideals taught that the individual was nothing and that the collective was most important, whereas some of Eifman's best works are about creative, romantic people who go against the aggressive, soulless crowd; about people's right to freedom (beginning with The Master and Margarita and ending with Red Giselle). In the land of classical ballet, Eifman devised his modern choreographic language.

But as times changed, so did the choreographer's vision. In his later ballets, the theme of romantic loneliness disappeared. The change was intentional, Eifman said.

TODAY, THE RUSSIAN ARTIST'S MAIN enemy, the Soviet power, has fled," he said, "but the inner world, where the artist battles with himself, has remained. This eternal conflict has been brought to the surface. In the new ballets, I turn more and more to the internal world."

But the choreographer's most unique ideas can only be realized through the body of a dancer. Eifman succeeded in creating a company that could fulfill all of his ideas--not a classical corps de ballet where everyone dances in unison, but an ensemble of individuals. In any of the mass scenes, each dancer portrays his own character. Eifman found and educated a new generation of premier dancers: Vera Arbuzova, Yelena Kuzmina, Yuri Ananyan, Sergei Zimin, Alexander Ratchinski. Even in the troupe's early days, some famous Russian dancers came to work with the company because they wanted to do modern choreography: Alla Osipenko, Valery Mikhailovsky, and Valentina Morozova, who became Eifman's wife. (She stopped dancing six years ago when she gave birth to their son.) Recently, new artists Alina Solonskaya, Nina Zmievets, Alexander Melkaev, and Yuri Smekalov have joined them.

Creation of the troupe was a painstaking process because the Russian choreographic school only prepares classical dancers. These graduates, in Eifman's words, "are prepared to stand in the second act of Bayadere, but only at the Maryinsky." Many of his best dancers joined the troupe after the Maryinsky rejected them. Eifman's choreography and its principles were completely foreign to them but the choreographer overcame their rigid training and turned them into brilliant professional artists of modern ballet.

In the 1990s, the impresario Sergei Danilian (Ardani Artists Management) brought the company to the U.S. and introduced its style to Americans. Now the world-renowned troupe comes to the U.S. every year. It has followers in many countries, but there are also those who categorically refuse to understand the work.

"I've been trying to discover a method for creating choreography; for forty years," said Eifman. "I am not creating ballet roles just by sitting at the piano. I come to rehearsal, where actors await me. I have to create a creative atmosphere for them, and work during the given rehearsal schedule. This is the hardest thing to do for people in my profession."

The work he creates is that of open emotions, where the author strives to express in motion the deepest human concerns. This process in itself creates an imbalance. "This is my own cardiogram, the rhythm of my pulse: its explosions, shocks, climaxes, peaks, and valleys," he said in an interview for a Russian souvenir program. He has the fulfillment of having realized his calling, creating his own theater, and being understood by his contemporaries. "I have done much to come towards the realization of my dreams," he said. "Now I'm in search of a new theme, a new movement within me, so I can move forward."

Dance photographer and critic Nina Alovert is the author of Baryshnikov in Russia.
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Title Annotation:Boris Eifman Ballet Theatre
Author:Alovert, Nina
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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