A Russian choreographer’s dream
Boris Eifman aspired to be a choreographer when he was 13 and he founded his own ballet company in the age of 31. He was recognized as one of "the most creative artist of Russia" by The New York Times and "the most interesting modern Russian choreographer" by Le Figaro. Despite recognition nowadays, his works were suppressed and criticized as "obscene", "ideologically incorrect" and "pornography" during Soviet times. Still, he never had a desire of giving up or leaving Russia.
On 18th and 19th October, the St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet came to Hong Kong and performed Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina at the annual World Cultures Festival . Eifman’s Anna Karenina is a vivid example of "psychological ballet", which is differentiated from traditional ballet. Eifman focuses on the emotional journey of Anna Karenina, wife of a senior government official who has an affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
"We don’t transfer the plot of Tolstoy’s novel to the ballet stage and don’t work with simple newsworthiness," Eifman said, "With the help of plastique – the physical movement and shaping of a phrase by the dancer’s body - we create a unique psychoanalytic version of that terrible moral crash which befell the heroine of the novel, we open up unknown semantic and emotional limits in a literary work already known to the world."
Born in Siberia, Eifman was first trained as a dancer in Moldova and later taught at the Leningrad ballet school. In fact, he managed to have his own little ballet theatre where he staged separate pieces in youth. While his relatives could not understand his aspiration to become a choreographer, he was already aware of his creative genius.
Why do we need ballet? Why on earth would children sacrifice their childhood in order to become ballet dancers? Why do the Russians keep dreaming about careers in ballet, when so few turn into real swans?
"It is impossible to say clearly when the flash of genius exactly visited me and I realized that I must connect my life with arts of dance," Eifman said, "Similarly, I cannot answer when and why the idea of one or another ballet flashes in my mind. I came into the world with the ability to comprehend the world, its emotional content through movement. This is the essence of my creative self."
Despite his creative genius, to realize his dream was a winding and long road. During Soviet times, his works were suppressed; in post-Soviet times, he struggled to ensure his ballet company’s survival in a capitalist market.
Asked about whether he was tempted to leave his country, he said: "Even in the darkest period I did not feel that desire, although there were offers from abroad. And indeed the Soviet government did enough for my theatre to be no more. However, I always remembered that here, in Russia, is my house, that spiritual environment which brought me up and supported me through all my creative life."
"If the persona is actually talented, no rough and tumble of life will destroy it. The main thing is to have time to realize one’s life’s purpose. I feel blessed to have been able to recognize in time the gift sent to me," he added.
Eifman did not have much exposure in western ballet and that made him suffer and protected his identity at the same time. He wanted to "create a repertory based on the traditions of Russian art" with the fundamental features of emotional generousness, precipitousness, humanism and rejection of any semitones. He experimented psychological perspicacity, philosophical depth and dramatic solidity in modern Russian ballet.
St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet resembles Eifman’s creative ambition. What makes his theater unique is its "rich expressive abilities that are peculiar to the language of body - most ancient, mysterious, and able to express the most difficult emotional and psychological states".
By courtesy of Festivals Office, LCSD
"St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina was chosen the opening programme as Boris Eifman is a pioneer choreographer in the ballet scene nowadays; and based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy and set to Tchaikovsky’s music, Eifman’s epic production Anna Karenina both captures the essence of the Russian classic and presents a more contemporary reading," said Elida Chiang of Festivals Office, Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
Hong Kong cultural enthusiast Peony Lok Ching-yee finds Eifman’s Anna Karenina impresses her most through its "spirit of experimentation". She said, "Eifman approaches Anna Karenina in an unconventional way. Movement of dancers is not confined to traditional ballet with lines of pirouetting, tutu-clad swans. Dancers are able to bring Eifman’s sensual and motive choreography to life, unveil characters' emotional journey and take the story to the next level."
In fact, St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet visited Hong Kong in the mid-2000s. The theatre was impressed by the "rapturous welcome from local audience". "With great pleasure we will come here, as well as to the countries of Asian-Pacific Region with our new performances and with delight we will present them to your wonderful and responsive audience," Eifman said, "We highly value the theatre-goers ready to understand and accept our art."