3.5 out of 4 stars
The opportunity to witness a performance by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is truly a gift. Artistic Director Boris Eifman’s Red Giselle was brought back to Chicago for the first time in seventeen years and has been one of the top highlights in the Chicago arts scene in 2017. Red Giselle is both a dedication to and creative interpretation of the life of famous Russian prima-ballerina, Olga Spessivtseva. Eifman has taken an artistic and daring approach to teaching his audiences about the struggles of being a talented artist during some of Russia’s most turbulent times. Though Red Giselle is not a true biography of Olga Spessivtseva, Eifman has used her ultimately tragic story to weave a cautionary, heartbreaking tale about the dangerous effects of fame, love, and political unrest.
Boris Eifman is famous for his “ballet theatre” where his choreography goes beyond that of traditional dance. He strives to explore uncharted territories and to translate these new discoveries into beautiful stories on the stage. Eifman’s choreography does more than convey form and structure; it floods the stage with a whirlwind of ideas, emotions and symbolism. Red Giselle tells more than a story about a beautiful dancer; it delves deep into her psyche and brings audience members into her pain. The ability to say so much through movement alone is both fascinating and commendable. Eifman’s work opens our eyes to the stories unfolding all around us which we often neglect to notice since we cannot hear them. There is beauty in movement, but beyond that beautiful surface is an entire world just begging to be explored and expressed. The arts world should be forever grateful to Eifman for bringing us into this new realm.
Red Giselle successfully utilizes more than just classical ballet to tell its story. Eifman intertwines classical movements with modernized styles of dance and expression to create his narrative. When the ballerina is seduced, we as the audience witness her whirlwind of emotions and apprehension through her expressive movements and poses. Her pain, lust, and fear are all recognizable without her uttering one word. There is immense power in the ability to speak without using words, thus heightening the impact of the ballerina’s emotional reactions even more. No longer will one imagine ballet as simply just tutus and pointe shoes; Red Giselle breathes life into the beloved dance form while still paying homage to one of Russia’s most famous dancers.
Incorporating a historical lesson into a work of art is what makes Red Giselle truly remarkable. When one is taught about a moment in history through a textbook or an onslaught of words, it can often become difficult to truly understand and decipher its meaning. The use of dance to illustrate the struggle, pain, and fear Russia experienced due to the rise of the Communist Party helps bring an often overwhelmingly complicated subject to a place of understanding. Art has a way of connecting people to the world in an emotionally intelligent manner that a plain textbook lesson could never achieve. Rather than assume we are incapable of learning dense material, today’s educators should learn from the ways of Boris Eifman and use art to broaden our horizons and expand our cultural understanding.
Not only did Eifman create a brilliant story to tell on the stage, but he also chose a magnificent team of artists to produce his work. Each dancer was so obviously emotionally connected to his or her performance, which strengthened the audience’s ability to connect in the same manner. Without transparency and a truly open spirit, it is nearly impossible to fully engage the mind. There was not one minute of Red Giselle that I did not see the artists giving it their all and truly committing to their characters in order to tell Eifman’s story. Adding to the stellar performance were the decadently beautiful and perfectly eerie scenery, costumes, and lighting. Vyacheslav Okunev’s scenic and costume designs created the perfect backdrop for the emotional story unfolding upon the stage. Though the scenery was at times simple when compared to the costumes, it was simple in the most perfect way; each piece had a distinct purpose in each scene and allowed for the artists to create breathtaking moments that would not have been the same without these specific scenic elements. Okunev’s costumes ranged from what one would consider classical ballet pieces to more modernized 1920’s garments, each piece distinctly decorated to match both the era and the situation currently being seen on the stage. The brilliance of the costumes acted as the final touch each character needed to truly become whole. Boris Eifman’s lighting design also filled the stage with marvelous moments, adding drama where it was needed and taking away the commotion when the world was all too much.
Overall, Boris Eifman’s Red Giselle was impeccable. Each detail placed into the production added to its success as a whole, and it was certainly refreshing to see such a twist on what many of us are raised to understand as ballet. Art always presents us with an opportunity to tell a story and to reach out to those who need it most by crossing bridges many are afraid to pass. Eifman has given life to both Olga Spessivtseva as well as any individual who finds themselves trapped in a world they do not recognize. If the chance ever arises for you to see a performance of Boris Eifman’s Red Giselle, I highly suggest you take the time to witness this beautiful piece of art.
Rebecca Curl is a freelance wig and make-up artisan and writer based in Chicago. She recently received her BFA in Wig and Make-up Design and an English Minor from The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. Follow her on Twitter!