The Pygmalion Effect has dances that work for the masses - dance review

Boris Eifman Ballet's performance at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC), September 19, marks the return of cultural routines after a long break.

 ‘THE PYGMALION EFFECT’ by the Boris Eifman Ballet. (photo credit: EVGENY MATVEEV)
‘THE PYGMALION EFFECT’ by the Boris Eifman Ballet.
(photo credit: EVGENY MATVEEV)

Like the migrating swallows that foretell the coming autumn, the return of the Eifman Ballet company marks the return of cultural routines after a long break.

This Russian ballet company had already visited Israel 15 times, more than any other ballet company, by far. Although the company tours extensively around the world, here they have a warm audience that awaits their return. The TAPAC auditorium was totally packed, predominantly by spectators that enjoyed airing their mother tongue at a reunion-like occasion.

A modernized version of classical ballet 

Boris Eifman established his ensemble in 1977 and aspired to develop a modernized version of classical ballet as he envisioned it, different from the conservative ballet companies in the Soviet Union era in his homeland. Compensating for lack of exposure to the progress of dance abroad and relying on what he heard from second-hand rumors, he imagined and improvised by intuition.

Eventually, he concocted a mixture of balletic techniques without strict finesse and precision and replaced them with overt theatricalities, bold facial expressions and hand gestures to portray feelings.

After 30 years, Eifman already witnessed the diversity of contemporary dance, could integrate new materials into his work and give up some of his previous stylistic fixations.

Currently, he offers his audience a satisfying show, based on a flimsier classical basis, with more free-style vocabulary, including clowning and spectacular acrobatic positions, next to Latino Ball Room competitions and street gang mayhem.

Season by season, his ballet company’s productions reduced its commitment to previous perceptions and traditions, and became a simile of an American Broadway musical. The smooth and easy music of Johan Strauss Jr. fitted like a glove. Now, they only need lyrics to fit in the new rubric.

Eifman was raised on classical ballet, which relied on linear stories, as did the traditional classical ballets. Among Eifman’s creations inspired by books, what comes to mind is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Chekhov’s The Sea Gull, or Tender Is The Night by Scott Fitzgerald. A story is a safe crutch to lean on.

The ancient story of Pygmalion

In the process of expanding his artistic perceptions, Eifman treated the ancient story of Pygmalion, relating to an artist who fell in love with a woman that he sculptured, as an open option. He treated it as a story that allows for many variations, like the classical ballet Coppelia, where an old craftsman devised a mechanical doll and fell for her.

Eifman imagined a talented girl from a poor background, which due to her environment, found that her life was like an emotional roller coaster; hard and often disappointing, actually an obvious sharp social criticism.

This production, with a cast of 35 dancers, portrayed enjoyable entertainment with proportionally large group scenes versus some stunning solos, duets and trios by very capable and attractive dancers, who surprised and delighted spectators with their humor and acting skills. Kudos to the captivating mega dancer Lyobov Andreyeva, and the multi-talented Demitri Fisher, Oleg Gvishev and Igor Sobotin.

By connecting St. Petersburg to New York, it seems that Eifman reached his goal: creating a dance that could keep working for the masses.