Chicago Dance Review: UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg at Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 9, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


Two years ago Boris Eifman brought his all-absorbing story recital Rodin to the Auditorium Theatre. It delighted audiences with its stream of 1,000-word pictures: The vibrant talespinning depicted a great sculptor and his (outer) inner demons. Less enthralling and more problematic, Eifman’s equally elaborate Up & Down is just that–a roller-coaster focused more on familiar types than lost souls. Full of instant and unearned anguish, this troubled and literal-minded two-act “psychological ballet” regales us with gorgeous stage pictures, elaborate production numbers, and bravura solo turns. It just doesn’t hit the heart.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

Two problems disrupt this new work from the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg–the eclectic music and the clichés about the mentally disturbed. Set in the 1920s to the very different (as in antithetical) sounds of George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Johann Strauss II and Franz Schubert, the score is UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)as schizoid as the subject–the breakdown of a young psychiatrist driven into insanity by a patrician patient. The depiction of madmen in the clinic of this unnamed shrink is stereotypical insanity–obsessive actions with props and puppets, contagious hysteria, mad mugging, lunatic leaps. The whiplash alterations from one disparate composer to the next put this ballet at the mercy of its music. Frenetically, it acts–or dances–out moral dilemmas (abuse of the patient-doctor dependency) and mental matters (his corruption by the materialism of a world of wealth suddenly sprung on him) better left to a novel’s nuances. Here fragmented scenes, with “crazy” folks trapped in classical poses, depict depths that jumps and swirls can’t plumb.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

The tabloid-lurid story (“Psychiatrist, heal thyself!”) chronicles the tailspin fall of the psychiatrist (Oleg Gabyshev) after he meets his glamorous and disturbed patient (Lyubov Andreyeva). However sophisticated and stylish, this socialite suffers the guilt of an incestuous relationship with her rich father (Jiří Jelínek). Other characters are a movie star (Angela Prokhorova) who seduces the shrink on her set, further sending him into a very literal free fall, and Buddy (Dmitry Fisher), the doctor’s winning rival. By work’s end bad karma has reduced the psychiatrist to one more of his clichéd crazies.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

The music almost doesn’t matter, though Gershwin fares best in the fabulous party scenes.  (No one suggests the irresistible and unattainable lure of pure beauty quite as well.) These Jazz Age breakouts benefit from gorgeous flapper fashions (quick-change marvels) by Olga Shaishmelashvili and kaleidoscopic sets by Zinovy Margolin. Mostly, however, the music is just grist for Eifman’s manic mill, with Berg orchestrating the darker conflicts and Schubert improbably accompanying a ball in black.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

Eifman provides plenty of literal twists and turns, wrenching, rapid gyrations to suggest the psychiatrist’s Faustian bargain with decadent sybarites, Riviera bathers, and assorted lounge lizards. The group dances are boiler-plate Charlestons, Castle Walks and Black Bottoms (vodeodo!) no more intoxicating than the bathtub gin. The solos and duos occasionally catch fire: Gabyshev is equally eloquent in his manic-depressive movements and his robotic romance with a very malleable Andreyeva. Here, we feel, is a man convulsed with too much passion to let love last. And he can’t just dance it off.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

All too literal, Up & Down presents a mental breakdown by-the-numbers, delving in more than dance can say rather than suggest. It might have held us harder if the music wasn’t itself schizophrenic in effect. Self-betrayal never felt more abstract or arbitrary.

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)

photos courtesy of Eifman Ballet

UP & DOWN (Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg)Up & Down
Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
Auditorium Theatre
ends on May 10, 2015
for tickets, 800.982-ARTS

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