Boris Eifman:

The Flame of joyous self—combustion

by Valeria Uralskaya, Ph.D.

A person's talent and self-perception must indeed be great if he is to vigorously affirm the talent of a younger person! In saying this we are expressing our enthusiasm not towards Boris Eifman, the subject of the present article but rather towards the great Russian choreographer Leonid Yakobson, who first noticed and helped develop Eifman's gifts.

It is in fact with Yakobson's name that we must begin any feature story about Eifman, the present luminary of Russia's contemporary dance. What did Yakobson, one of the most original masters of Russian dance see in Eifman? How did he encourage him? How did he develop the younger choreographer's artistic potential?

Perhaps what Yakobson noticed in Eifman at the beginning was, above all, the same self-propulsion and uniqueness that distinguished the work of Yakobson himself.

A distinctness from others, a need and desire to see and carry out in his own way the themes of his choreographic characters has distinguished Boris Eifman from his earliest works. This was true regardless of the genre the young choreographer chose for his compositions. Eifman could be working for the National Moldavian ensemble Mioritsa in Kishiniev, where he grew up, or at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Leningrad or at the Latvian Opera and Ballet Theater in Riga or at the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater. In fact, one wonders if Eifman would have become the same choreographer Eifman, whom the world now knows so well, if his artistic fate had followed — from its first independent steps — the well-known stereotyped pattern of success. Of course (in the end) Eifman's talent would have emerged through: but maybe the harsh conditions and harsh "Procrustean bed" of the old traditions, norms, and appraisals probably did Well, let us not try to second guess history. Nevertheless, three of Eifman's serious early works were in fact staged on Official Academic Theaters and played no small part, in the choreographer's artistic growth. I am referring to the two versions of the ballet Gayané music by Aram Khachaturian). One version was set at the Leningrad Maly Theater and the other at the Latvian Opera and Ballet Theater in Riga. The third work was the version of The Firebird which Eifman set at the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theater. Gayané was preceded by Eifman's serious research into Armenian culture, its poetic literature, its art and folklore.

The two versions of Gayané alluded to were, of course, closely related. However, they were not a mere repetition of the same work in two different theaters. In fact, this defines an important trait we immediately notice when we analyze Boris Eifman's artistic choreographic profile. Studying both works we cannot fail to notice the peculiar poetry — made rather enchanting thanks to the originality and attractive energy of the Armenian culture — which is evident in the work that young Eifman created at the Maly Opera and Ballet Theater. The Riga version, on the other hand, astonished and captivated because of its exactly structured subject matter, its brightly graphic characterizations and the spirited dynamism of its dance action.

From the beginning the works of the choreographer revealed certain contradictory characteristics. On one hand, we notice the work's rationalism, its symmetrical composition and structure. On the other hand, we are struck by the intrinsic emotionalism of the action. No wonder the spectator cannot remain indifferent and finds himself actively reacting for or against what is being presented.

Firebird, another early work of Boris Eifman, was also given in two versions. When the ballet was initially set on Kirov Theater ballet dancers, Gabriella Komleva danced the role of the Firebird. She was partnered by Vadim Budarin. The ballet's very difficult duets, which at time utilized lifts requiring acrobatic virtuosity, were to a certain extent determined by the dancers' abilities. One remembers, above all, the ballet's closing moments. The leading characters seemed to fly in non-intersecting lines across the entire stage in search of each other. However, the dream — the elusive Firebird — remained a dream.

When Boris Eifman choreographed the ballet once again, this time for his own company, he gave it a different philosophical ending. This time it was Alla Osipenko who shone in the role of the Firebird. The idea that the lover saves the beloved at the price of his own life and that love overcomes evil became the basic tenet of the new version. In any event, it was the poetic female "khorovod" (round dance) and the theatrical compositions based on the theme of Russian dances that set the atmosphere in both versions.

During its first seasons the new theater created by Boris Eifman presented premières several times a year. It was during those years that the choreographer used to "hide" in the rehearsal hall, immersing himself in his work, turning his back on life's adversities and sometimes even scaping them from direct threats. In retrospect one must admire his courage. Only a person chosen by God for this particular mission could have — without breaking in two — created his own "signature" theater. That is, considering the traditional Russian ballet world and cultural policies of those years.

In fact, Eifman did more than create his own theater. He choreographed work after work presenting us with two new pieces in each program: short works, one-act ballets and other dance compositions.

The artistic output of Boris Eifman is without any doubt traditional in the best sense of the word. He utilizes his professional knowledge of the classical "school" but only as, a base. To this he adds his incessant searches for a personal dance lexicon, which sprouts from the nature of the piece, from its characters and, of course, from his inner "self". In any work of Eifman, his personal tenet is expressed to the fullest. It appears emotionally frenzied, in his youth artless to the point of confessional purity, and forever dramatically sharp, conflictive and harsh. From here the extremes of the genres Eifman chooses: tragedy and comic farce, The Idiot of Dostoyevsky and Insane Day (Le Mariage de Figaro) of Beaumarchais. In fact, it was these two

works that brought choreographic fame to Boris Eifman. Before these the road led him through Two-Voices, Interrupted Song and Boomerang. Eifman's aim is always to express a central idea while keeping the emotional integrity of the piece. Such was the case when Eifman tackled Dostoyevsky's very difficult work The Idiot, his own version of Kuprin's The Duel, Bulgakov's Master and Margarita and in The Assassins, based on Emile Zola's novel (Theresa Raquin).

Complex and mufti-characteristic, Eifman's ballets are always monologues.

If within the dramatic composition of a classical ballet the duets have a greater resonance, in Eifman's ballets it is the monologues that do so. Furthermore, each of the main characters converses with, and confesses himself to the spectator, who forms the other half of the duet. This dramatic device puts Eifman at the center of contemporary choreographic stream, where the main voice is that of the choreographer (whether or not he happens to be on stage). Boris Eifman speaks with us in the monologues of each one of his characters, imbuing the dance voice with the emotional subtext of his own feelings. He injects said feelings in the actions and texts of his characters and lives in them. The reason Eifman's theater is his own is that its dancers create this signature theater with him — dancers molded by Eifman, brought up in his particular repertoire, who have found their own "persona" within Eifman's art.

When Boris Eifman says that he belong to the same artistic family as Maurice Béjart, Roland Petit and John Neumeier, he is not referring to the general characteristics common to the world dance culture of our time. Rather he is talking about a feeling for the creed which shapes a personal dance company. Here each step is imbued with the personality of the choreographer, and represents part of his incessant participation in everything and with everyone. Here it is the choreographer who creates the theater's mysterious soul, and sustains it with the fire of his own self — combustion.

It seems that Leonid Yakobson, having encouraged the youthful gifts of Boris Eifman would be satisfied at how happily — has turned out the fate of his disciple despite its great drama — disciple who like himself, carries within the complex and rich layers of Russia's culture.

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