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DANCE REVIEW

Eifman's emotions pour out

March 16, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The cheers and multiple curtain calls that greeted choreographer Boris Eifman at the end of his two-act ballet "Anna Karenina" on Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center must have helped offset the jeers the East Coast dance establishment has often hurled at his work. "Overrated," "boorish," "schlock," "tedious" and "unfathomable" are a few of the adjectives critics have used to describe his pared-down version of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping 19th century epic novel about illicit love and its tragic outcome.

Reactions are always a matter of taste, of course, but tedious? Unfathomable? Eifman is one of the swiftest, least ambiguous and most cinematic storytellers in dance today. Moreover, he is a master of structure, dexterously shifting between large ensembles and solos, duets or trios to create a relentless narrative rhythm. He uses the music of Tchaikovsky tellingly, not only for large-scale effects (excerpts from various symphonies) but also to signal isolated psychological states of the characters ("Manfred," "Hamlet," "Francesca da Rimini"). He even audaciously appropriates scores often regarded as owned by the great George Balanchine ("Serenade" and "Theme and Variations"). This is one fearless guy.

There are subtleties in his fearless Mannerist style, so driven by overt emotional expression, however. In the first ballroom scene, for instance, Anna makes a slight, extra lifting gesture that signals repressed emotions even before she meets Vronsky, her future lover who will fatefully unleash them.

But generally Eifman twists and subverts classical ballet form to embody and telegraph extreme feeling states. Yes, he can turn out the exciting balanced and elegant patterns for the corps de ballet that are a mandatory part of full-length story ballets. Witness the Masquerade Ball to the same music Balanchine used to close "Theme and Variations" to such different purpose. But Eifman is more interested in externalizing the sexual and emotional states that pull people apart. Some, admittedly, find this indecorous.

Two of the principals in Orange County danced at the Los Angeles premiere of the ballet in 2005, the intense and focused Maria Abashova as Anna and the magnetic Yuri Smekalov as Vronsky. Here they seemed an even more passionate, driven, destructive and seamless duo than before. Oleg Markov danced the wracked, tortured Karenin with dignity, power and vulnerability. As Kiti, Anastassia Sitnikova combined innocence and anguish. Finally, no one could overlook the Eifman Ballet corps, which ran on endless energy, especially when it morphed into a Meyerhold-esque train that destroys Anna at the end.

Zinovy Margolin designed the evocative two-level set, Slava Okunev the arresting costumes, Gleb Filshtinsky the dramatic lighting. The Eifman is now performing Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull."

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chris.pasles@latimes.com

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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 tonight, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. (All performances are of Boris Eifman's "The Seagull.")

Price: $25 to $85

Contact: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org

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