Changing Chekhov

Boris Eifman's interpretation of 'The Seagull' moves the action from a summer colony to a ballet studio, and turns writers and actors into dancers and choreographers.

dance elfman 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dance elfman 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Every reader and theater-goer has his own image of Chekhov's literary heritage," says internationally acclaimed Russian choreographer Boris Eifman. "This ocean of human passions, solitude, despair and unrequited loves. What attracted me to The Seagull was the problematic bits of life in art: the collision between the new and the old, the generation gap, the price of the success, etc. It turned out that everything that preoccupied Chekhov is still relevant for me," says the choreographer over the phone from St. Petersburg. Eifman will be in in Israel next month to premiere his latest ballet, The Seagull, based on Anton Chekhov's classic play. Last year, the Eifman Ballet celebrated its 30th anniversary. "For this occasion, I wanted to stage a new piece that would give me an opportunity to both keep developing my artistic language and to tell my personal story as the artist. The piece appeared to be close not only to me, but also to my dancers." Chekhov's play dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters: the ingenue Nina, the fading leading lady Arkadina, her son, the experimental playwright Treplev, and the famous writer Trigorin. Eifman has transferred the original story from a summer colony to a modern-day ballet studio, turning actors and writers into dancers and choreographers. "Thus, we have four central characters: an established choreographer, Trigorin; and a revolutionary, Treplev; an ageing prima-ballerina Arkadina; and Nina, a young and ambitious girl from corps de ballet, eager to sacrifice her life on the altar of art in order to succeed. The result is the show, which is Chekhovian in its spirit and at the same time tells the story of my theater." Speaking about the artistic language of the show, Eifman says that it includes every idiom of 20th century dance. "Mine are universal artists, meaning that within a few minutes they are able to switch from classical to modern and even to hip-hop," he accentuates. Eifman, who studied both choreography and musicology, is known for his ability to translate music into movement in the most subtle and precise manner. "I have opted for Sergey Rachmaninov's music, which describes the characters' tumultuous and tortured spirits. Also, special electronic music was commissioned to a young Russian composer, Leonid Yeremin, to depict the strange, mystic and broken world of Treplev." EIFMAN'S PERSONAL story is far from usual. Born in Siberia into a family of engineers, he later moved to the drowsy town of Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, before finally settling in St. Petersburg, where he completed his studies. Already at an early age he realized that choreography was the only thing he was interested in. "This was strange, because nothing in my immediate surroundings suggested it. This was not like growing up in St. Petersburg, with its immensely rich cultural tradition, which you simply breathe in with the air. "Yet it is not strange - I believe that the God chose me, and since then I have dedicated my life to the mission of translating the elusive movements of the human spirit into the language of human body." Despite the international success of his ballets and an ongoing fight with the conservative Soviet arts authorities, the choreographer, who admits that he considered immigrating to the West, lives and works in St. Petersburg. He calls it "a very special city, where I still feel the spiritual presence of generations of the artists who suffered and created there. And my Jewish heritage adds additional color to my artistry, making me different from the others." So what about the personal touch he gave to The Seagull? Who among the choreographers represents Eifman? "Granted, I am an established artist with a lot of successful productions behind me, so in a way I am Trigorin. But every time that I enter the ballet studio, I realize that I know nothing. While working on the new piece, I was happy to find out that the young choreographer who desperately looks for a new ballet language is still alive inside me." The Seagull will be presented January 5, 6 and 7 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, January 11 at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem, and January 12 at the Haifa Convention Center. Anna Karenina, based on Tolstoy's novel, will be presented January 8, 9 and 10 in Tel Aviv.