Interview: Boris Eifman - on 'Rodin' & 'Anna Karenina' & more

Thursday 27 March 2014

Boris Eifman

Boris Eifman formed his Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg in 1977. From the beginning he set out to make audiences see dance differently – and having choreographed over forty works, he describes his genre as ‘pyschological ballet’. His company are in London next month with the UK premiere of Rodin and one performance of Anna Karenina

Are you looking forward to your performances at the London Coliseum this April?
Yes, it is a great honour for our company to perform again in such a top-ranked centre for world ballet. We know how demanding and well-informed the audience is in London and we are also aware of their emotional responsiveness and sensitivity. This tour is of particular importance to us as it part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. It’s an opportunity to present the art of modern ballet of our country – and also the Russian culture as a whole – a great responsibility.

You’ll be presenting the UK premiere of Rodin. Tell us about this work…
Rodin is one of the most successful works in our repertoire – it has already been very well received in New York, Chicago, Paris and Moscow. In this production we are reflecting on how tragic and thorny life of the great artist was, as well as on the incredible price that creative people have to pay for their art.

What inspired you to make Rodin ?
The tragic story of the life, love and creative work of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. I looked into the story, as if into a magic mirror, with my heart trembling to learn of those dramas, doubts and experiences. I felt deeply the life and work of this artist including that psycho-emotional world into which he is plunged. Rodin is actually very close to my heart. Firstly, as a person who devoted his entire life to harder creative work; secondly, as an artist whose main subject of interest was the human body, its endless expressive power.

How did you choose your cast?
My recipe is to work with those artists who are able to embody, personify my own artistic concept. For me it does not matter which company the artist danced with before, or their former merits. For instance, Lyubov Andreyeva who dances the role of Camille was a corps de ballet dancer until she has joined our company. A couple of months after her arrival she started learning the leading female role in Rodin, which she eventually danced at the premiere and continues to perform it remarkably.

You’re also bringing back Anna Karenina – will the production (including cast) be different from the UK premiere in 2012?
We haven’t made any major changes in this ballet, it is a very complete work and there would be no point in disrupting its harmony. On the other hand, the primary parts are danced by different soloists and they all bring new emotional connotations into the performance.

Was it difficult to make the ballet from the novel?
No, simply because I have not tried to retell the novel. First of all, the great literary masterpieces are interesting to me due to their intellectual multidimensionality. They invite you to contemplate on something, give rise to your creative thought. And when I refer to Tolstoy, I want to open in his work that is unknown up to now, which can be perceptible and expressed only through the language of dance. Therefore, the text of Tolstoy’s novel did not press on me, it rather brought me unexpected and bold artistic conceptual solutions.

Rodin and Anna Karenina – two very different works. Why do they work so well for Eifman Ballet?
These ballets perfectly reflect the creative originality of the St.Petersburg Eifman Ballet, its vision of body language as a powerful artistic tool for learning the hidden secrets of the inner world of human nature. For me, the art of ballet is not just a set of movements to the music but a mystical spiritual act.

How do audiences differ in London and St Petersburg?
The audience in London is perhaps a little more sophisticated and demanding than in St. Petersburg – although our city is also an important cultural and theatrical centre. In general, I prefer not to distinguish the audience by geographic, ethnic or some other grounds. We are grateful to all those who are willing to take our art and open their hearts to it.

Do you care what critics say?
Previously, I cared much more about this. But with experience you get the philosophical attitude to what observers will say about your performances. Certainly, I respect and appreciate the point of view of professional critics – those who are capable of thoughtful analysis of the performance.

Tell us about the Boris Eifman Dance Academy and what you hope to achieve for Russian ballet?
The Dance Academy opened its doors in September, 2013. The idea of creating it arose from the problems I encounter every day in the ballet hall. First of all, today it is very difficult to find new professional artists for my company – and I believe it’s the same for my colleagues in other companies. I hope that the Academy will foster universal artists of the 21st century, capable of implementing even the most original ideas of choreographers and knowing various dance techniques. The new ballet school pays great attention to the spiritual and intellectual development of students. After all, we strive to prepare not just impeccable performers, but the real elite of Russian and world ballet dancers with unique stage thinking.

You started your company back in 1977 – what do you think is the secret of your continuing success?
We have never been influenced by anyone else’s style, we have formed a type of ballet theatre which absorbed the traditions of Russian psychological art, developed its own plastic language and focused on large-scale performances, which have unique emotional intensity and simultaneously profound philosophical context. For almost four decades, we have created an original repertoire demanded worldwide. Of course, I cannot say that Eifman Ballet is worshipped universally. Some love us, some cannot accept our type of art – but our company touches people’ feelings. After each of our performance the audience is in a strong emotional shock.

What’s next for Eifman Ballet?
In September we will appear at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow with our most recent production Requiem. In autumn we tour to Vienna, Prague, Bratislava and in November and December we will go on a long-term tour in France. We are also working on a new ballet called Tender Is the Night, based on the novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald which will premiere early next year.

Eifman Ballet St Petersburg are at London Coliseum with
Rodin , 15 – 17 April
Anna Karenina , 19 April

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