When Boris Eifman took on the classic story of Pygmalion, he imagined that rather than changing Galatea’s speech, Pygmalion influences his love’s physicality. A veteran choreographer, Eifman wanted to look at the tale from a corporeal angle, examining how different movement languages can communicate cultures and temperaments. In his ballet The Pygmalion Effect, which will open the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center’s dance season this month, Eifman offers a new perspective on this time-tested story.
“Before starting to compose The Pygmalion Effect,” explained Eifman in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, “I was looking for a story that would make it possible to show the development of the main characters and their transformation. And I was attracted by the famous ancient story about the sculptor and his creation. It has many interpretations in world culture. We know both Shaw’s play and My Fair Lady. In our performance, the action is transferred to the world of dance and the metamorphoses that occur with the characters are manifested in plasticity and not in the manner of speech (as in Shaw). Especially for The Pygmalion Effect, the troupe mastered a fundamentally new choreographic style. It was based on the technique of ballroom dancing.”
Eifman sees the journey that his Galatea goes on to hone her movement as a perfect example of the ways in which society impedes our freedom of expression. “The performance carries an important philosophical message. I would formulate it as follows: reality is as you perceive it. This is the essence of The Pygmalion Effect: a psychological concept that describes the influence of our expectations on reality and human behavior.”
Eifman, 76, has devoted countless creations to reinterpreting famous and classic stories, and works of literature. In The Pygmalion Effect, he took a humorous turn away from the heavier tomes of his previous creations. Perhaps the desire to move to lighter content emerged during the COVID period, in which the Eifman Ballet, like most performing ensembles, spent many months away from its beloved routine.
“THIS PERIOD was not an easy test,” he said. “At first, the artists were forced to sit within four walls for several months. They did not have the opportunity to fully rehearse or keep in shape. Then the isolation ended and the theater returned to work. The dancers had to remember all the material that we learned before the pandemic. The troupe also rehearsed with masks and this is physically very difficult for a ballet performer. But despite all the difficulties, in recent years, we have been able to maintain the health of the artists and release two very successful premieres: the performances Moliere Passion, or The Don Juan Mask, and The Seagull. A Ballet Story. The theater recently returned to active touring. We perform a lot in the cities of Russia, and also show performances abroad.”
Eifman is thrilled to return to Israel, where he has enjoyed an enthusiastic fan base for several decades. “We are incredibly happy to return to Israel after a few years, a country where the theater is always welcomed very warmly. Here, we have many friends and loyal fans. We are thrilled to continue to acquaint them with the artistic achievements of the modern choreographic art of Russia, the development and presentation of which in the world is our priority as a creative mission.”
And while local audiences will receive a lighter work of Eifman’s, he ensures that future tours will return to the type of psychologically intense ballets he is known for. In fact, Eifman explained that he is currently working on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which will mark his fourth ballet inspired by the author. “I have made The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov and Beyond Sin, all based on the works of Dostoevsky. The works of the great writer have not let me go for more than 40 years.
“Why is Dostoevsky so relevant? His characters live on the edge, constantly exploring the boundaries of what is acceptable and also what breaks them. But a crime, a sin in the writer’s novels is always followed by repentance or punishment. And today, I see how people who consider themselves pious trample on every conceivable commandment and at the same time do not feel even a hint of remorse.
“It is important to remind once again that only unshakable moral norms and the desire to build our lives according to some kind of moral absolute helps us to remain human, saving humanity from total catastrophe and primitive chaos.”
Eifman Ballet will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center from September 16-20. For more information, visit: www.israel-opera.co.il