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Eifman presents another bold act

The daring Russian ballet company gives 'Anna Karenina' a post-feminist reinterpretation.

June 25, 2005|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Boris Eifman is utterly fearless: unfazed by precedent, criticism, the rules of making dances, building a company, staying out of trouble.

Even before the curtain rises on his new two-act ballet, "Anna Karenina," he startles you by lowering the lights to the same Tchaikovsky score (on tape) that the late George Balanchine used for "Serenade," one of the sacred icons of 20th century classicism.

Music familiar as the finale from Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" turns up later. Last season, Eifman infuriated the American dance establishment with a one-act depiction of Balanchine for New York City Ballet that many deemed sacrilegious. Is he baiting that establishment in "Anna Karenina" or simply going his own way?

In either case, once the dancing begins, Eifman proceeds to give Tolstoy's well-known characters a bold post-feminist reinterpretation, and he ends the evening with a daring coup de theatre: The corps de ballet that previously represented the social forces oppressing Anna and driving her into madness now becomes the train that crushes her under its wheels.

Just 3 months old, "Anna Karenina" came to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday as perhaps the most powerful statement yet of his creative audacity, as well as another demonstration -- if one was needed -- that the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is a brilliant amalgam of feeling, muscularity and honed Russian technique.

Emotions drive Eifman choreography, but his Mannerist style is so consistently intent on setting up conventional classical expectations and then abruptly fracturing them that the expressive content can look imposed, a pretext for florid bravura and gymnastic contortions -- as in "Don Juan and Moliere" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center a month ago.

Not here. In "Anna Karenina," those elegant high-velocity turns that suddenly terminate in split-slides to the floor depict the leading characters' inability to keep their balance, stay upright, under the weight of new crises. Moreover, the constant use of supported jumps in love duets for Anna and Vronsky locks them both in a whirlwind of desire.

Enlisting a two-level set by Zinovy Margolin and resourceful lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky, the narrative develops with cinematic fluidity. Scenes overlap so there's no time to applaud individual feats; the stage is divided, vertically and sometimes horizontally, so we can see Anna and Vronsky alone in their rooms dancing the same steps. Only a splashy costume ball resembles the kind of divertissement we're used to seeing in a story ballet of this kind.

Slava Okunev's costumes continually isolate Anna, Vronsky and Karenin in ensemble passages, exposing their relationships to public scrutiny even before Eifman makes the corps choreography a direct threat.

And if the action goes deliriously over the top in a mad scene featuring brutally modern sonic eruptions by Leonid Eremin, the lapse proves temporary.

Mainly, Eifman's "Anna Karenina" remains impressive in delivering a personal and persuasive reading of Tolstoy's characters -- one unusually sympathetic to the men in Anna's life.

As danced with superb authority by Albert Galichanin, the brooding Karenin clearly adores his adulterous wife and becomes agonized by her repeated rejections of him.

If this is a loveless marriage, Anna makes it so by deliberately walking away from him and their young son.

As always, Galichanin's partnering skills are amazing, so we see Karenin exalting, begging and then degrading Anna in radical but effortless shifts of position, as if his every fleeting impulse were being physicalized.

Initially a romantic-unto-Romantic coupling, Anna's affair with Vronsky becomes increasingly obsessive, addictive, with her hands compulsively all over his body as he begins to recoil as much from fear as guilt. Yuri Smekalov brings gorgeous classical line to the role and an ability to unify even Eifman's most extreme discontinuities with a superb sense of flow.

As for Maria Abashova as Anna, this is a heroic performance, unyielding technically and expressively as Anna plunges into the vortex she envisioned at the very end of Act 1.

The insanity in Eifman's "Red Giselle," the sense of being torn apart by sex in his "Tchaikovsky," the horror of being alone on a fatal course in "Russian Hamlet" -- all are united in her at Tolstoyan scale.

Other principals will take over the roles as the engagement continues. But the tidal surge of the events and ensemble choreography is itself an inducement to lose yourself in this extraordinarily accessible and passionate dance drama -- one that warns you about the consequences of feeling too deeply in a world where perhaps only a maverick choreographer can get away with breaking the rules.


Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 tonight, 2 p.m. Sunday

Price: $20 to $75

Contact: (213) 972-0711, (213) 365-3500 or

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