`Russian Hamlet' shouldn't be
Five minutes into the Eifman Ballet's performance of ``Russian Hamlet: The Son of Catherine the Great'' Wednesday night at the Wang Theatre, I had the same sinking feeling I had at Boston Ballet's ``The Hunchback of Notre Dame,'' presented just a year ago on the same stage. I knew I was in for yet another overwrought, pretentious story ballet that would test the limits of my patience and offer little in terms of entertainment or psychological insight.
This definite dud was choreographed by the legendary Boris Eifman, artistic director of the St. Petersburg-based company. His most egregious error in ``Russian Hamlet'' is a naive misunderstanding of the scores he has chosen to generate the numerous scenes in both acts.
Few choreographers are willing to tackle Beethoven or Mahler; Eifman has taken both and arranged a cheap pastiche of canned music for his limited movement vocabulary.
A 'Hamlet' with flash, but lacking soul
Russians have never shied away from grand themes in the arts. Think of ''War and Peace,'' ''Boris Godunov,'' and, in the dance realm, the splendid collaborations of Tchaikovsky and Petipa.
What Petipa and Boris Eifman have in common is a taste for spectacle. ''Taste'' is also what separates the great 19th-century master from the contemporary choreographer who has brought his 25-year-old St. Petersburg-based troupe to Boston
Eifman's work borders on the vulgar. His is a distinctly European sensibility, akin to that of Maurice Bejart. His choreography is full of hyperbole and histrionics; drama and narrative are its core. The American balletomane's preference, in general, is for understatement and musicality. You have to leave America behind to enter Eifman's world..
Most choreographers might find translating the story of Don Juan to the ballet stage challenging enough.
In his ''Don Juan & Moliere,'' however, Boris Eifman not only portrays the fictional Spanish rake but the great French comic dramatist who helped immortalize him as well, creating parallel stories that unfold in tandem.
The good news is that he pulls it off, and brilliantly at that.