Why blame Chekhov?

Eifman’s Seagull, plus [bjm_danse] and Susan Marshall
By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 2, 2007
070406_inside_seagull
THE SEAGULL: Jealousy, creative pangs, and art that ranges from inept to mediocre.

Boris Eifman and the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg have been scavenging the literature of Russian drama, novels, and ballet for 30 years now in search of suitably theatrical subjects. Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull inspired the “spectacular new masterpiece” (their words, not mine) that came to the Cutler Majestic last week. Like all the other Eifman ballets I’ve seen, this one skims over the hard parts of its antecedent, the quicker to plug in the choreographer’s signature elements: passionate lovers with emotional problems, expert stage effects, and plenty of dancing.

The Seagull the play (1896) concerns a family of Russians with a run-down country estate and artistic aspirations. Nothing seems to happen as they talk and talk, but by the end of the play they all realize they’ve failed at their noblest intentions. We’re left to meditate on the meaning of creativity and the perils of artistic success, on vulnerability and innocence, on the sacrifices required to overturn conventions, on the price of artistic courage and of artistic complacency.

You’d think this would be very relevant to dancers today, but Eifman’s Seagull omits these subtle conflicts to expound on simpler things like jealousy — artistic and romantic. When the four characters preserved from the play aren’t lusting after one another or aiming bolts of envy at one another, they suffer terrible creative pangs and produce art that ranges from inept to mediocre.

The Seagull the ballet takes place in a traditional ballet school. A young man, Treplev (Dmitri Fisher a week ago Wednesday), begins and ends in a steel cube only a little bit bigger than he is — a symbol, I guess, of the constricting academic dance he wishes to reform. Maybe because he’s been cooped up in that tiny space, he can’t help moving with twisted, knotted limbs even when he gets a chance to choreograph.

The ballet master, Trigorin (Yuri Smelakov), is haughty and sure of himself, until Treplev’s rebellious inventions spur him to vary his classroom exercises with a few supercilious curlicues and stiff angular variations. The ballet hinges on the competition between these two men. Treplev’s mother, Arkadina (Nina Zmievets), the top ballerina in the studio, also conceited and aging, specializes in high extensions and the thinnest legs ever seen on a stage. The upstart Nina Zarechnaya (Maria Abashova) rejects Treplev’s innovations and his love to dislodge Arkadina, both as Trigorin’s mistress and as his star.

In between the duets provoked by all of this, Treplev writhes and dreams of a grand ballet about the Meaning of Life, as represented by a large pulsating white blob — all too obviously manufactured by dancers poking around inside an expanse of cloth. Later on, he dreams up an implausible crew of hip-hop dancers. Later still, the hip-hoppers and the blobs evolve in his dreams into apes or neanderthals who galumph around without a floor plan. The dancers in the corps convert gamely, sometimes skeptically, from one eccentric style to another.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
  Topics: Dance , Dance, Performing Arts, Ballet,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MARCIA B. SIEGEL
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MARK MORRIS'S SOCRATES, THE MUIR, AND FESTIVAL DANCE  |  May 22, 2012
    Erik Satie called his vocal work Socrate a "symphonic drama," though it's anything but dramatic in a theatrical sense — or symphonic, either.
  •   JOFFREY BALLET GETS ITS DUE  |  May 08, 2012
    New York has two great ballet companies, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater. Any other ballet troupe that wants to put down roots there has to develop a personality that's distinct from those two.
  •   THE BOSTON BALLET’S DON QUIXOTE  |  May 01, 2012
    In the long string of ballet productions extracted from Miguel de Cervantes's novel Don Quixote, the delusional Don has become a minor character, charging into situations where he shouldn't go and causing trouble instead of good works.
  •   THE TREY MCINTYRE PROJECT IGNITES THE ICA  |  March 21, 2012
    When Trey McIntyre found a base for his infant company in Boise, Idaho, four years ago, eyebrows lifted in the dance world.
  •   BALLET HISPANICO FALLS SHORT  |  March 13, 2012
    All three dances presented by Ballet Hispanico at the Cutler Majestic last weekend depended heavily on costume effects to convey their messages.

 See all articles by: MARCIA B. SIEGEL