Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
Note: I have no background in ballet and this is my first visit. Instead, I will comment on the theatricality of the production. The Eifman Ballet has played in Toronto at least four times.
Thank goodness for question and answer sessions before a production as this helped to understand a bit more about what I was to see. The programme also provided further insight.
Russian choreographer Boris Eifman has taken what he calls ‘tragic music’ of one of the greatest composers of all time, and allows the pain and anger that emanates from the music to create an energy which immerses the listener in the flow of feelings, awaken dreams and fantasies while transforming and subliming a man. Eifman is also a philosopher as he is concerned about the complex and dramatic aspects of human existence which was beautifully underscored in this production.
Something else I found intriguing about the ballet. My invited guest told me that it is an aristocratic art form in its way of story telling. The body remains rigid, but the head can turn to both sides. The dancers always have their eyes and head held high. Since ballet was first introduced as a form of entertainment for royalty, the dancers would proudly smile with their eyes looking up with the thought, “I’m dancing for you, your majesty.” An interesting idea.
I had no idea whatsoever that Tchaikovsky had led such an unfulfilled love. His marriage to Milyukova ended in ruins. In this production, the great composer has passed away and there are painful visions from his life that he pictures as he lies on his deathbed. This ballet focussed quite a bit on the dual essence of human nature, so we see two Tchaikovskys and two Milukovas. At this performance, Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva danced the two principal roles.
As the Eifman Ballet is based in Saint Petersburg, Russia and is a touring company, there is no live orchestra. Although I do like to hear live orchestras in live theatre, the use of recorded music did not destroy my first evening at the ballet. If anything, I found the use of pre-recorded music at the appropriate volume level.
So, how would I describe my first visit to the ballet? Gorgeous and vibrant pictures are created all the time as the music lends to the unfolding of the story. The costumes and sets are a wondrous sight to behold and I wanted to marvel for a few minutes longer looking at them, but I had to focus on the story and the choreography.
Choreographed ballet is quite the eye candy. Geometric lines and symmetry are of most importance in ballet to create a fresh and pleasing look to the eyes.
My eyes were focussed everywhere in many of the ensemble numbers as these dancers are marvellously in sync with the music and with each other. To see moments from Swan Lake also intrigued me as my invited guest informed me that I should try to see a production of this other masterpiece.
I found the second act far more interesting than the first act. The opening of the second act was stunning which then led into a magnificent work by the male ensemble of dancers as if they were gambling. The acrobatics involved by these dancers was incredible that I held my breath periodically and wondering where it was going to go. The audience approval at the end of the number said it all, and I joined along with them.
At the conclusion of the performance, my guest whispered to me that I might want to stand for the curtain call. At the conclusion of the production, there were four curtain calls with the audience roar of resounding approval that reached into the rafters of the auditorium. Four curtain calls, four! This was certainly a ballet audience and members certainly enjoyed themselves.
Final Comments: Would I attend another ballet? I probably would but, like opera, I’ve been told that I should be a tad selective so that my early stages in watching this grand form of entertainment are to be upheld. Hopefully there would be a question and answer session before the production begins.
‘Swan Lake’, Meridian Hall?
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
‘Tchaikovsky: Pro et Contra’ played at Toronto’s Sony Centre (soon to be Meridian Hall) from May 9-11.