"Red Giselle" Review- The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg's Masterful Performance

“Red Giselle”, danced by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg from May 19-21 at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, told an impassioned and poignant tale of a prima ballerina assoluta’s blossoming, triumph in a glorious role, escape from Communism and ultimate personal collapse. The production itself was a triumph of every art associated with the theater, and a stunning exhibition of ballet achievement. Set to the lustrous, romantic and intense strains of Pyotr Tchaikiovsky, Alfred Schnittke and Georges Bizet’s music, with carefully focused and spotlighting by choreographer Eifman, this was a grand piece of work that embraced iconic characters and events, as well as imaginary forces such as the “willis” from the ballet ”Giselle”, upon which part of the saga is founded.

The Red Curtain; The Eifman Ballet in "Red Giselle"

The highly imaginative stagecraft included a geometrically outlined ribbed and spare iron curtain that drops down precipitously; an enormous red drape that suddenly appears to cover the background in ominous import; blue-gray onion-domed replicas of the Kremlin; a long ramp upon which harried, saddened persons come or go; and a large tortoise-like shell that threatens to engulf The Ballerina. The simply stunning costumes included short and long white extra-fluffy tulle tutus; gold tutus/ gold male long leotards dripping with gilt; long diaphanous bias-cut chiton-like gowns; a beautifully cut cape which, discarded by The Commissar, reveals his magnificent physique in a sadistically sexy black leather vest; and “willis” draped in  diaphanous white gauze veils. Bravo to Vyacheslav Okunev for the sets and costumes.

This contemporary ballet company, founded in 1977 by Boris Eifman of St. Petersburg, has quickly become known for its originality and cutting-edge approach, along with extreme virtuosity and the expansiveness of its productions. Russian ballet has always been associated with rigorous technique, but this company weds modern daring and new ideas to the existing forms. 

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg dancing a ballet within a ballet: "Giselle" reimagined in "Red Giselle"

Their past repertoire has included ballets inspired by great historical/literary figures, such as Rodin and Anna Karenina. After a 19-year absence, Eifman Ballet returned to the Auditorium to tell the tale of the marvelous Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva and her brilliant career tragically interrupted by mental illness. The story is set against the larger historical-political impact of the Communist régime, and is not a linear biography, but a metaphor for the impact of this repressive political system on its talented individuals.

For this reason, the characters are named generically: they are "The Ballerina", "The Commissar", "The Teacher" and "The Partner". On opening night, May 19, these 4 roles were danced by an astounding quadruple play of uncommon talent; aside from the dancing, or perhaps as one with it, they infused their characters with conspicuously readable personality styles.

Maria Abashova, principal dancer, is a 6-foot tall visually entrancing figure who commands one’s interest every moment she is on stage as "The Ballerina".  Her amazingly arched feet transport her into leaps, the endless legs render every fouetté and jeté a point of pride, the supple spine bows her backwards into yoga-like moves of astonishing grace. In sum, the choreography allows for a perfect line “from fingertip to toe that seemed to stretch on forever.”

Maria Abashova leaps into legend as "The Ballerina" in "Red Giselle"

Igor Subbetin, (he of the cape and vest) was a powerfully built and physically dauntless sinister lover/controller as "The Commissar".  His lifts and love scenes with Abashova left one breathless with his sheer bravura and sensual approach. Watching him leap high into Chinese splits was a not-to-be-forgotten experience. Dmitry Fisher as "The Teacher" was an agile and fond taskmaster, empathetic and supportive at barre or out on the floor. Oleg Gabyshev as “The Partner”, (or "Albrecht" from “Giselle”), was a romantic/idealized dream of a lover; the modified pas de deux was every bit a young girl’s fantasy partnering.

 The rest of the company more than supported the stars. Whether dancing  solo, in duets or groupings, in the mini- embedded “Giselle” or telling the larger story, they formed a fluent and virtuoso phalanx of talent; the assemblage lifts were particularly remarkable to behold. Especially engaging was the full-company “Roaring 20’s” scene, in which the ballerinas, fetchingly dressed in jewel like-flapper gowns and toques sashayed, twirled their hips and danced "The Charleston" with their dissolute lounge lizard male companions in perfectly fitted modified "zoot suits".

 The final collapse of the ballerina was handled with muted sorrow, brief and sensitive, with no sense of failure. The brilliant use of triangular and rectangular half-glazed mirrors, smoke and caressing light carried the audience all too swiftly to the end.

Maria Abashova and Oleg Gabyshev as "Giselle" and "Albrecht" or "The Ballerina" and "The Partner" in "Red Giselle"

For  information and tickets to all the wonderful programming at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, go to the auditoriumtheatre website

 

All photos by Evgeny Matveev

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