Love and Death

Ill-fated passion from Russia and ABT's young hopefuls

"Happy families are all alike." Boris Eifman must have agreed with his fellow Russian Leo Tolstoy when he ransacked Anna Karenina for his ballet of the same name. Eifman, however, bent as usual on lurid melodrama at a constant high pitch, must have found Tolstoy's quiet but profound accounts of domestic experience boring. So he has ignored the paean to settled family life that the novelist deftly juxtaposes with his heroine's reckless plunge into love that leads to self-immolation. Kitty and Levin don't exist in the ballet—only Anna, who sacrifices everything to passion, her tormented spouse, and her irresistible lover, Vronsky. As far as I could make out, Eifman believes that an effective contrast to Anna's tale is to show—in passages featuring the corps de ballet operating at full throttle—that adultery and child abandonment corrupt society at large. Needless to say, this makes for scenes that are either tedious or unfathomable—or both.

Oddly, perhaps because the ways to depict ecstatic sexual intercourse in ballet are limited, the most compelling personage in the piece turns out to be the betrayed husband, Karenin. He ricochets between enraged cruelty toward his unfaithful wife and piteous pleas for her forgiveness and love. Played by Albert Galichanin in a Stanislavsky-influenced mode, he turns out to be the one about whom you care. Maria Abashova and Yuri Smekalov are striking too, but more in terms of sheer gorgeousness than depth of character.

As veteran Eifman watchers know, the choreographer's vocabulary neglects at least half the material that makes classical ballet eloquent and thrilling. Here, once again, it's all preposterously high leg extensions, extravagant arm gestures to match, and whiplash spines. Matters like small quicksilver steps with beats are gone the way of Kitty and Levin. Just about uniformly long-limbed and swivel-hipped, dedicated to a single sleek idea of glamour, the dancers look almost androgynous. Eifman skimps on other essential choreographic devices too. There are no soloists, and the ensemble is invariably deployed in grid formations, as if obedience to strict geometry were the only spatial game in town.

From left: Maria Abashova, Yuri Smekalov, and Albert Galichanin in Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina
photo: Richard Termine
From left: Maria Abashova, Yuri Smekalov, and Albert Galichanin in Eifman Ballet's Anna Karenina

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Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
New York City Center
Closed

ABT Studio Company
Jazz at Lincoln Center, Rose Theater
Closed

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