TWO years ago, the St Petersburg Eifman Ballet staged an acclaimed contemporary production of “Anna Karenina” in Shanghai, bringing Tolstoy’s tragic novel to new audiences in a new format.
Next month, Russian choreographer Boris Eifman’s company will return to the city with a contemporary production of “Rodin,” which traces sculptor Auguste Rodin’s troubled relationship with apprentice and young lover Camille Claudel. It will be performed in China for the first time.
Described as a magician and philosopher of the theater, the Siberian-born Eifman founded his own ballet company at the age of 30. It’s the only troupe in Russia under private management.
Eifman has demonstrated a talent in creating complex characters. They evoke strong emotions and passions, like the tortured composer in the ballet “Tchaikovsky,” the adulterous Anna Karenina and the mentally ill Camille Claudel.
It’s impossible to do a production about a person whose life lacked passion, intrigue and drama, Eifman said.
For that reason, he rejected the idea of producing a ballet about Sigmund Freud.
“He was an outstanding researcher, but there was nothing in his biography that would make a good story,” Eifman said. “He was born, he worked, he died.”
On the other hand, Eifman said he isn’t obsessed with characters who live ruined, painful lives.
“On the contrary, I strive to ensure that our performances emotionally support the audience, fill them with light energy, spread joy and hope,” he said. “However, to me, true art cannot exist without great passion. My goal from the artist’s point of view is to explore the mystery of the emotional and mental life of a person.”
Eifman’s productions don’t have lavish stage sets and costumes.In “Rodin,” the sculptor wears sand-washed jeans, which Eifman attributed to the vision of the state designer. “A ballet is not a costume film,” said Eifman.
“It is a form of art that is, to a large extent, conventional. I am not interested in the story of things. The story of the human soul is what appeals to me.”
He said he listened to French music when creating “Rodin,” choosing a mix of Ravel, Saint-Saens and Massenet, three composers who lived during Rodin’s lifetime.
Reviews of his work have been mixed. Russians love Eifman’s creations, but many Western critics have called them odd and boring.
Luke Jennings of “The Guardian” gave “Rodin” only two stars out of five in his 2014 review, saying the work “demonstrates all the failings of his creative style.”
Eifman brushes off the critics. He said his works are created for theater audiences, not theater pundits. What matters is what audiences think and how they respond.
“You may love my work or hate it, but you cannot ignore the powerful emotional energy that flows from artists to audiences,” he said.
One reviewer also wrote that “Rodin” was possibly inspired by “The Tale of the Stone Flower,” a Prokofiev ballet choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich. Eifman denied the claim.
“Speaking about Grigorovich, I call him my teacher,” said Eifman. “I can say the same about another outstanding Soviet choreographer, Leonid Yakobson, who also addressed himself to Rodin’s works in his productions.
He added, “When I was producing this ballet, I was not drawing inspiration from either Grigorovich’s or Yakobson’s works. I was guided by the tragic story of Rodin and Claudel itself — the story of artists who paid a terrible price for their brilliant artistic achievements.”
“Rodin” will open the 2017-18 season at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center with two performances, followed by two stagings of “Anna Karenina.”
Q: In what ways can ballet portray characters and their emotions?
A: It has been always hard for me to talk about art’s mechanisms because language is a rather limited instrument while ballet expression is boundless. The ballet is able to paint the strongest inner experiences and the finest psychological nuances. Dance is the oldest magical instrument in unlocking the inner essence of man.
Q: Why choose “Rodin” to bring to China now?
A: “Rodin” is one of the most successful ballets in our company’s repertoire. It has been performed to triumph at many prestigious venues in many countries. It has received theatrical awards and even has been adapted to the screen. We are happy to be presenting this ballet to Beijing and Shanghai audiences.
Q: What makes the Eifman Ballet different?
A: We have created a unique type of theater — the Russian psychological ballet theater. Our productions are notable for their emotional and intellectual intensity.
It is crucially important for me to keep a living connection between dance and theatrical art itself. In the 20th century, those threads were cut on purpose. We are now re-establishing them. Even those who are not passionate admirers of our theater admit that our productions are very spectacular, very fascinating.
Q: In 2015, you brought “Anna Karenina” to the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. Can we expect any changes this time around?
A: Any production is a living being. It is born and then it lives its own life, developing and, to a greater or lesser degree, changing.
Moreover, new dancers join the company and introduce nuances into stage action. I cannot say that they are sea changes, but rather about strokes and emphasis. The choreographic text of our ballet, its design and dramaturgy remained unchanged.
September 7-8, 7:15 pm
September 9-10, 7:15 pm
Tickets: 80-1,280 yuan
Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center
Address: 425 Dingxiang Rd