Werewolves of St. Petersburg

Courtesy Orange County
Performing Arts CenterNext to the Kirov and the Bolshoi Ballet, the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is practically a baby.
Not quite 30 years old, its artistic independence evokes the last-child syndrome as well. The dancers may come from a classical base, but like precocious children, Boris Eifman asks them to go their own way and combine folk, modern, classical, contemporary and acrobatic movements with deep psychological drama.

"The most important for me, as director of the company, is that my company dance only my choreography. We are the new vision of Russian dance," the 58-year-old Eifman proclaims in a long, detailed e-mail.

But just because the dancers focus on Eifman ballets doesn't mean the classics are thrown by the wayside. Instead Eifman adds his own special sauce to the traditional Giselle,with RedGiselleat the OC Performing Arts Center next week, and presents his own literary-influenced work DonJuanandMoliere.

Giselle,the story of a peasant woman who goes mad and dies after her betrothed turns out to be an aristocrat engaged to another woman, rarely comes under the heading of revolutionary or intellectual. It's beautiful, to be sure, but the ballet veers away from the cerebral and instead chooses universal sentiments of loss and forgiveness, heaped with a healthy dose of pastoral Romanticism (otherwise known as lots of dancing in the forest). Pretty—but straightforward.

In contrast, the Eifman-tweaked RedGisellehas become something of a SwanLakefor the company, both for its historic flavor and elaborate plot. Meant to be a representation of how the Revolution affected the art world in St. Petersburg, Eifman describes the ballet as "about her [Giselle's] relationship with the most powerful people after the Revolution—the KGB Agent who in the one hand, killed freedom in art and in the [other] hand, supported art.

"We're not looking for such a connection as the betrayal of Albrecht in classical Giselle,but using elements of Gisellein our production," Eifman explains. "It's related with the real story of our ballerina—Olga Spessivtseva—and is about one of her greatest roles, Giselle. On another side, it's about how the story of Giselle is so close to her personal life—both the real Olga Spessivtseva and Giselle—their madness came from unanswered love, from unrealized dreams."

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Courtesy Orange County
Performing Arts Center
In an art form littered with tragic stories, Spessivtseva—the unreal Russian ballerina who also performed with Ballets Russes and the Paris Opera Ballet, whose long lines, legs and creamy dancing inspired critics to call her things such as "that sea-bird from Baudelaire's sonnet which could only fly because its over-long wings would not allow it to walk"—is one of the more tragic. Spessivtseva went crazy after she defected from Russia and lived out the last 48 years of her life in an upstate New York sanatorium. The ballet follows a similar line, tracing Giselle's abusive relationship with a KGB agent and her life in Paris, where she becomes enamored with her "partner," who chooses another. The ballet ends when Giselle succumbs to madness. Although violently sad, there is something terribly alive about the women in Eifman's work, which includes pieces such as AnnaKarenina.He explains: "To have a strong hero on stage dancing, expressing something, expressing feelings, to be very sensitive, you probably must be werewolf. You never will find in my ballet that the woman is not strong enough. They are always powerful. They are always fighting for love, for life, and for freedom." EIFMAN BALLET OF ST. PETERSBURG PERFORMS DON JUAN AND MOLIERE, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2728, WWW.OCPAC.ORG. MAY 31 AND JUNE 1-2, 8 P.M.; AND RED GISELLE, JUNE 3, 8 P.M.; JUNE 4, 2 & 8 P.M.; JUNE 5, 2 P.M. $25-$75.

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