Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Choreographer Boris Eifman takes the emotional frustration of Anton Chekhov's play "The Seagull," and amplifies it to a heart- rending intensity through choreography danced to the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff. The result is breathtakingly beautiful and surprisingly passionate.
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, celebrating its 30th anniversary with performances of "The Seagull" at the Cutler Majestic Theatre , takes on Chekhov's tale of thwarted love and creativity and resets it in a ballet studio. In interviews, Eifman has said Treplev represents the creative struggles he has experienced trying to create a new kind of choreography combining classical and modern idioms. The production opens with a powerful solo for Dmitri Fisher as Treplev, trapped inside a box and ultimately breaking free with a graceful combination of athletic strength and emotional anguish.
The scene then shifts to the studio, where tension between the older, established artist Trigorin (Yuri Smelakov) and the ambitious young Treplev are illustrated by their moves in a dance rehearsal, with a smug Trigorin taking his company through classical ballet paces while Treplev's modern moves are mocked. The extraordinary skill of the Eifman corps de ballet is on display as its members move with exquisite precision to a metronome beat, perhaps to show how confined the classical form is, but also demonstrating their meticulous training. There is admittedly, an odd moment in the second act when the male corps inexplicably goes into a hip-hop routine. Despite obvious athletic prowess, these ballet dancers are way too precise to have any street credibility.
Treplev does catch the eye of the young Zarechnaya (Maria Abashova), whom we meet as an eager student at the barre. Abashova is particularly stunning, dancing gymnastic combinations in high-speed duets with remarkable grace, shifting effortlessly from her young lover Treplev to her older idol Trigorin. When Treplev and Trigorin fight over her, Eifman's moves are rough. Abashova is flung into the air and then swoops down, her face just inches from the floor, with Rachmaninoff's deep, heaving chords on piano and violin as accompaniment. Despite Eifman's focus on Treplev's creative struggle, Abashova's skill and sincerity make her character's dramatic journey the most satisfying, if also the most tragic.
In Eifman's rendition, Treplev's mother, Arkadina (an impossibly thin Nina Zmievets), is a prima ballerina. During one melancholy duet, the contrast between this mama's boy (who curls up around his mother in a fetal position, and even occasionally puts his finger in his mouth like a baby) and his determined mother is outlined in stark detail. Zmievets acts with every inch of her endlessly long limbs, showing annoyance, concern, and control even as she executes complicated combinations.
The most thrilling moments in this "Seagull" come from the solos Eifman creates for his four principals. Whether it is Zmievets asserting Arkadina's control, Abashova's nearly reckless flirtations, Fisher's brooding Treplev, or Smelakov's transformation of Trigorin from pompous ballet master to guilt-wracked has-been, these dancers' technical skill is only surpassed by their emotional commitment.
Chekhov may have brilliantly explored the effect of repressed emotions, but in his interpretation of "The Seagull," Eifman puts desire, denial, and despair right out on the dance floor.