You probably haven’t read The Brothers Karamazov recently. Never mind. Odds are it wouldn’t help you fathom Boris Eifman’s ballet The Karamazovs. Without a souvenir program, could you know that when Alexei (Igor Markov) leads what’s hitherto been a rabble of prisoners to reform their robotic thumpings, and when, following the example of Ivan (Albert Galichanin), they turn brutal again, the two brothers are not themselves but Christ and the Grand Inquisitor, antagonists of the parable within Dostoyevsky’s novel?
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, at City Center through Sunday, enthralled audiences with its first U.S. performances last spring. Its modern works—all by Eifman—are a rarity in a country that venerates the classics. The company has existed since 1977, so it’s not surprising that Eifman likes to deal with large forces within society and how individual corruption or heroism affects social action. One of his talents is for compressing, twisting, and opening out his mob of eloquent performers so they look like fierce currents gathering up everything in their path.
He has some stunning ideas about the use of sets and props. Depending on how it’s lit, Viacheslav Okunev’s surreal “house” can also look like a gilded labyrinth through which the libertine Karamazov père (Andrei Gordeev) chases whores, or a crowded prison where stacked-up captives cling to the bars. True, some of the most gripping effects require a setup and a suspension of disbelief. In order for the patricide Dmitri (Yuri Ananyan) to be swung high off the ground with ropes held by many men, he has to be hooked up. For the three brothers to show that they’re all tainted by their father’s corruption, he has to enter covered with sticky rags which then adhere to them. You wonder why people rush in with a table. It’s so the antagonists can play seesaw with the help of the crowd and, in a fine coup de théâtre, the father can be suddenly revealed as dead—caught across the upended table’s legs.
Eifman’s trios abound in imaginatively contentious tangles, although duets between various men and Grushenka (Vera Arbuzova) or Katerina (Yelena Kuzmina) all look alike, with big sweeps of the gorgeous women’s legs pulling their bodies into drastically arching convolutions. Eifman choreographs in pictures. Each vociferous move seems frozen a second for the eye. The only contrast to this is rushing around. The savage emotionalism of the splendid performers is some thing to see, but do not look for subtleties in their physical language. This ballet shouts.
Back in the ’70s when the Multigravitational Experiment Group and Batya Zamir performed off the ground, their aim was to give our perceptions of space, gravity, and dancing a wake-up slap. Today, midair work by Elizabeth Streb and Sarah East Johnson emphasizes strength and risk. Lisa Giobbi, on the other hand, is into magic realism—using ropes, harnesses, and trapezes to create fantasies of flight, desire, and downfall.
Giobbi’s images, like those of Pilobolus and Momix (she danced with both), offer beauty with a morbid or perverse edge. Unlike those companies, she doesn’t make visual wise cracks with bodies. Nor does she really develop ideas. Most of the works shown at Altogether Different merely present an image and manipulate it. In the new Temptation—one of her most arresting pieces—Giobbi’s an in nocent Eve when Timothy Harling slides headfirst from above, his suspended feet encased in a spotted bag, and pulls her off the floor. Forget apples. Woman and serpent twine and revolve and nuzzle in lyrical, simulated– zero gravity lust.
The music Giobbi uses—mostly by Hayley Moss—tunes the ear to New Age mysteries. Such as why in Falling Angel does Giobbi, suspended by an invisible harness in a dark glow of light (by Donalee Katz and Mitch Levine), have no legs? While you’re wondering about this, she daintily lets one limb, then another, descend from her white dress. Running slow-motion through the air, shocked by the music, Giobbi’s undeniably entrancing—a line of poetry in search of a poem.
Harling spends his Sabastian swinging tangled in a V of white stretch fabric. In Hormonal Tempest—an entry in the weird design category—Giobbi thrashes in place, while carefully angled red light and body posture give her shadow long arms and witchy fingers and cause her bare breasts to collaborate in forming a frog’s head (don’t ask).
Polymorphously Perverse (1992), an on-the-ground piece, tells a story, and it’s a nasty one. Harling plays a dangerously demented magician (maybe) and Giobbi’s a captive he wheels on folded up in a gilded cage. Once he’s pulled her out, he treats her like a doll, picking her up, it appears, by the neck. When she collapses, he kicks her; Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” offers irony. The Joyce audience showed its good taste with reticent applause.
Jennifer Binford, Rebecca Jung, John-Mario Sevilla, and Terry Pexton performed (very capably) in only one number.