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Eifman's Don Q at City Center


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#1 Michael

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 01:12 PM

Eifman Ballet's production of Don Quixote was at City Center over last weekend.

The production consists of lengthy quotations from the Petipa Don Q, and even a bit of quotation from Balanchine's (I think), set into a Freudian psycho-drama. It consists of a contemporary Don Q who is an inmate in an all male very grey and dimly lit insane asylum and who imagines that he's Don Q as in the Petipa version. In the asylum Don Q is subject to the control of a Head Nurse/Dulcinea figure, who is the one who gets the quotation from Balanchine's final act pas d'action. (The Nurse/concentration camp Schoolmarm as Suzanne Farrel/Dulcinea -- She also gets a Roland Petit step from Carmen, the one where Carmen in second position on pointe pliees lasciviously in a long clingy dress).

The central dramatic device of the work is that whenever Don Q the asylum inmate's Petipa dream becomes particularly vivid, the female corps erupts onto the stage in full Petipa Tutu Regalia, with fans, the lights come up, and long, literal quotations from the Petipa version ensue. We thus have Don imprisoned in an expressionistic Bejartish concentration camp, and when he escapes, the stage alternately erupts into a demi character Petipa fan dance, or cape dance (with balons) or finally the grand pas de deux from the Petipa.

In Act II, in fact, Don Q (after dancing with a hula hoop -- don't ask, it would take too long to explain) actually escapes into an even longer more colorful quotation from the Petipa. But only after straying through a modern Russian land of vice where the women wear slinky pants and the men's shirts are open to their glistening waists.

The trouble with the work dramatically is first of all that the insane asylum passages, which account for fully half the work, are quite boring. Also, I would think a Russian from the Refusenik era might be more careful with his allusions to the Gulag. We get the idea early on and not much is done with it, the choreography is just flat here and the treatment of this profoundly explosive subject never justifies having touched upon it.

The colorful eruptions into Petipa-land work much better. Arguably, the grey monotone of the asylum highlights the color of the Petipa, which I quite enjoyed at times. I would have enjoyed it even more on its own, however, without the pretentious Freudian setting.

Eifman has the house for a three week run, the most ambitious thing he has yet attempted in New York. He is, I think, the representative of the moment of the Bejart/Petit vein of ballet, although I think he lacks the depth and taste of Petit.
His visit here is a huge commercial success. Both the Audience and the Grand Tier at City Center were full -- larger houses than I saw for Paul Taylor either this year or last or for Merce Cunningham last year. The audience is exclusively Russian, from Brighton Beach, very serious, very well dressed, taking their ballet very seriously too, with an East European respect for art and for the intellect which I find refreshing in comparison with other NY cultural events, and with aggressive bad manners that I find somewhat hard to take when standing in line. It is quite an extraordinary audience, as a matter of fact, the like I've not seen here before, because of its size and its dedication and the fact that it is so totally isolated from any other NY artistic audience. I was impressed by the fact that when the two tall and attractive but poorly trained principal dancers -- Vera Arbuzova and Alexei Turko (he is somewhat more capable than she) -- rendered their grand pas de deux a la Petipa, complete with tours en l'air to the floor and flicking of the wrists, they could elicit no more than the most luke warm applause. The audience knew the difference. This was not Anianiashvilli and they could tell the difference. They saved their strongest applause for Eifman, their hero and "Master" himself at the curtain.

The company consists of seven principal dancers, 12 First Artists, and a Corps de ballet of 31 (sixteen women and fifteen men). All of the dancers are Russian. Picture the sixteen Corps girls as so many would-be Irina Dvorovenkos, hair unifomly parted at the side, affect slightly predatory. A fairly uniform and well developed epaulement and carriage in the upper torso is their best quality. The men are a much more Motley Crewe, and decidedly below the level of the women. Turn out is not a strong attribute of their training, particularly the men.

Eifman's handling of the corps de ballet and of stage effects in general are his strength. He is very well experienced but perhaps too erudite. He has considerable stagecraft but much less taste. Modesty is not a conspicuous quality. He is immensely ambitious and could be called pretentious. The program notes have to be read to be believed. I am surprised, given the level of ambition, that the company performs to canned music. A live orchestra is the great divide in company levels and with the Minkus score of Don Q (which I like very much, a guilty pleasure among others) it would have been an asset to this performance.

This is a company which must be taken seriously and which I feel is worth seeing. I would and shall go again. However I see no reason to be overindulgent. When ABT presented Pied Piper last spring, the production was rightly savaged as shallow, boring, tasteless and pretentious. When La Scale presented Amarcord and Sylvie Guillem's Giselle last July, they were likewise subjected to merciless criticism. Eifman last weekend was about on that level. But unlike Pied Pier I'd go see this again.

Above all I am amazed and encouraged that there is this latent and serious audience in Brighton Beach. I wonder if they can be induced to see anything else?

#2 Manhattnik

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 02:06 PM

Well, I dragged a friend to see Eifman's Tchaikovsky, because I'd spent over a year trying to explain it to her, finding that words failed me again and again. I'm sorry I missed the Don Q, as it sounds like it might rival Tchaikovsky for the most grandiose, pretentous and just plain awful ballet ever. I do admire Eifman's courage of his convictions, and he has a certain genius for not simply creating bad ballets, but ballets which are so phenomenally bad on so many levels it begins to beggar the imagination.

Last time I saw Tchaikovsky, I was so blown away by the truly indescribable gay orgy to Capriccio Italien, I forgot some of the other priceless details, such as Nadezda von Meck's appearence to the dying Tchaikovsky first as Carabosse, and, at an interlude in said gay orgy (which started out as a card game) as the Queen of Spades; Tchaikovsky's awakening of a Sleeping Prince with a kiss on the lips (he was gay, you see....); the repressed and tortured Tchaikovsky's slutty, wanton, gay doppelganger appearing as Drosselmeyer, complete with Nutcracker; the implication that Antonina Milyukova was actually driven mad as a consequence of having sex with Tchaikovsky (tremendous artistic license, here), and, well, I could go on. Loved the male black birds of Evil Thoughts battling it out with the white Swans from Swan Lake...

I was struck by how many times the wild, slutty, gay Tchaikovsky spent rolling around on the floor in front of the uptight, repressed, eternally suffering Tchaikovsky, with mad gay Tchaikovsky thrusting his feet at the chest of the miserable Suffering Artist Tchaikovsky so much that I would forgive readers, unfamiliar with Tchaikovsky's history, who might infer from the voluminous program note's coy reference to Tchaikovsky's nameless vice, that the composer actually suffered from incurable foot-fetishism.

I think I need to see a more restrained, tasteful portrayal of Tchaikovsky. What a shame Blockbuster never has The Music Lovers.

#3 Michael

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 05:45 PM

Wow.

Eric, I thnk that you touch upon a quality that I hadn't quite been able to articulate to myself but that's clear from your description of Tschaikovsky. It's that the work is crude -- Not so much crude choreographically from the steps and enchainements point of view (although to be sure it's all that) -- as crude, shallow and obvious thematically and "artistically." In what it shows. No credit at all is given the audience to grasp what's going on. A sledge hammer is employed on what should be a keyboard. That's the fault -- crudeness, obviousness and lack of depth. And particulary where the work sets out precisely to be deep and profound, that's a serious fault indeed.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 07:51 PM

I was a bit surprised by the critical reception that Eifman got this time. Of the reviews from Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco that I found, all but one (in Boston) were unmitigated raves. The Great Genius of our Era. There is a NY review that calls "Don Quixote" an "honest mistake," but it's still within the context that this is great art.

I can understand Eifman's ballets being popular, but I was surprised at the critics' reactions.

#5 Manhattnik

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 04:57 AM

I long-ago stopped being surprised at anything one sees in the NY Times. This is, after all, the newspaper whose leading critic single-handedly made the career of Molissa Fenley with one of the most unrestrained and baffling raves I've ever read in my life. Fenley, knowing a good thing when she sees one, has been doing (to paraphrase another Times' critic) "that dance of hers" ever since.

#6 Michael

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 07:46 AM

If it were only Anna Kisselgoff at the NY Times it wouldn't make me wonder. Last year I remember a full page review proclaiming Eifman's Tschaikovsky a "Masterpiece" and its creator a "Genius."

But when I hear a chorus of voices singing this same thing I have to ask myself what exactly is the music they're hearing and why it is their voices are tuned that way.

I plan to look over those reviews if I can find them. But a preliminary stab prejudicing the experiment might be to wonder whether this chorus doesn't represent the reverse side of the particularly sterile period of Formalism we're in right now choreographically. Can it be that after sitting through the culture-wide equivalents of Prism or of Fearful Symmetries for the umpteenth time, and when the only so called "expressionistic" alternative is something like Forsythe -- that anything with "Content" -- in fact the more obvious the "Content" the better -- appeals right now, particulary when its staged with craft and a great deal of eye catching Spectacle?

When I first saw Eifman a couple of years ago, it was a program of short pieces and I was struck at that time by the Pop Values. It looked like something out of Heavy Metal to me, as in Kiss or Nine Inch Nails. His stagecraft does have a lot to do with Spectacle with a Capital "S" -- To me that is his most appealing side. But of course Cirque de Soleil does that better.

#7 Juliet

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 12:54 PM

I really felt like Alice when I went to the performance of "Tchaikovsky" recently....I looked around at all these people filling City Center, obviously being moved or enjoying this performance.

I really Don't Get It. (And it is not because I am not Russian or Dramatic Enough: I am both.)

I thought it was awful. Screamingly funny in its obviousness and yet this awful mawkishness was overlaid on a very solid foundation. The dancers were beautiful, the partnering of the men very skilled, the lighting, sets and costumes well done.

Opening on a dramatically lit scene of Tchaikovsky contorted in bed ("The great composer is dying..."), the dancer then proceeds to examine his left foot in great detail (bunions? ill-fitting shoes?) and a respite from the contortions arrives with Carabosse......the first appearance of Carabosse. During the course of the ballet she appears several times, usually in the character of Nadezda Von Meck---the little rat hat she wears later is particularly appealing....

All of the women in the ballet wear rat hats--figuratively, if not literally. I have seldom seen such a misogynistic choreographer---some like Bejart just do not have much use for women in their work, but this was just plain nasty. Somehow I don't think it was simply a reflection of Tchaikovsky's feelings, but there was an awful lot of flinging around (humans) and bourrees (swans) and that was pretty much the extent of the choreography for the female dancers. Tchaikovsky's wife had a very well-done variation with her scarf/straitjacket....she was very good, actually.

I thought the entire thing was appealing in its badness----but surely an entire City Center run can not be filled with people payiing good money for bad/crude ballet. I half-expected to like it, actually, for its baroque theatricality, from all I had read previously. I love the music, I love exuberance, I love well-trained dancers (even in bad choreography---like a beautiful body showing through an ill-fitting suit.)

I must be down the wrong rabbit hole, is all. I am really happy for those who attended and thought it was wonderful: may you spend further enjoyable evenings at the ballet. I am sorry not to share your love for this production but I thought it was atrocious, formulaic choreography and a crude presentation of a gifted and troubled artist. I simply cannot understand the accolades for this.


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