“For me, ballet is more than a profession. It is a means of existence, my mission on this earth… Most likely, I would simply suffocate on my emotions if I didn’t have the possibility of expressing them through art,” explains Boris Eifman, choreographer and artistic director of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. Describing his work as “psychological ballet”, he is drawn to themes that explore the human psyche and mental instability, the fragile artist, and political repression.
Created in 1977, during the Brezhnev era, and originally known as the Leningrad Ballet Ensemble, the Eifman Ballet is recognized for mixing classical and contemporary styles, and on stage, exudes an overt romanticism and flamboyant sensuality. Many of the works in the company’s repertoire, such as Red Giselle, Russian Hamlet, Anna Karenina, and Eugene Onegin, all choreographed by Eifman himself, are based on Russian literary classics. During his 40-year career at the head of the company, Eifman has created dozens of ballets.
The critics often characterize his choreography as volcanic and vertiginous, with a “smouldering psychological intensity”, and admire the great stamina and skill of his performers. The Siberian-born Eifman, however, describes his work as going well beyond ballet, being firmly rooted in the theatre, “deeply philosophical” and expressive of “the high heat of passions”.
Originally viewed in the Soviet Union as a “dissident choreographer” for straying from the strict confines of classical ballet, Eifman has since received many honours, including Russia’s Order of Merit for the Fatherland and the Golden Soffit Theatre Award of Saint Petersburg, as well as France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He also has a St Petersburg dance academy named after him. The Eifman Ballet, which is made up of some 60 dancers, has toured extensively in Russia as well as throughout Europe, in Israel, South Korea, Australia, the US and Canada.