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http://www.worldfestival.gov.hk/2013/fb/redirect.html World Cultures Festival 2013 – Lasting Legacies of Eastern Europe: Anna Karenina by Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg (Russia) “Seductive, immediate and beautiful. And Russian. Very Russian”leading Russian choreographer Boris Eifman meets one of literature’s most charismatic female characters, generating a breathtakingly bold and passionate encounter. 18 – 19/10 Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre http://www.worldfestival.gov.hk/2013/images/karenina/fb.jpg

Opening Programme

Anna Karenina


Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg (Russia)

Ballet logo
Artistic Director /
Boris Eifman
People’s Artist of Russia
Winner of Golden Mask and Golden Soffit Awards
Best Choreographer, Prix Benois de la Danse

Based on a novel by  Leo Tolstoy
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

“Seductive, immediate and beautiful. And Russian. Very Russian”
─ TimeOut Sydney

“A ballet world in search of a major choreographer needs search no more”
─ The New York Times

Leading Russian choreographer Boris Eifman meets one of literature’s most charismatic female characters, generating a breathtakingly bold and passionate encounter

Renowned Russian choreographer Boris Eifman’s epic Anna Karenina epitomises the unorthodox repertoire of this master of “psychological ballet” and the daring exploration of controversial topics that has brought him great international acclaim. A much-admired character of Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina dares to love, stay true to her feelings and defy social norms, establishing herself as a role model for modern women. A scorching Anna is brought to life in Eifman’s innovative contemporary interpretation. Driven by passion, the alluring beauty restlessly chafes against her gilded aristocratic life while her turbulent, angst-filled relationships with both husband and lover are powerfully depicted through searing routines and athletic, highly charged performances.

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg was founded in 1977, establishing itself as one of the leading ballet companies in Russia. Artistic director Boris Eifman’s highly imaginative and theatrical vision of dance penetrates deep into the minds and souls of the characters portrayed. Keeping classical ballet at the core of his choreography, Eifman has gone on to evolve an original body language and narrative techniques, providing a remarkable modern reflection of the “Russian soul”.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Grand Theatre
7:30pm $550 $450 $350
$250 $150*
Karenina seat plan

*Some seats may have restricted view

Friendly Reminder

  • Approx 1 hr and 50 mins with an intermission of 20 mins
  • Meet-the-artist session after the evening performance on 19/10

Photo: Hana Kudryashova, Anton Sazonov, Arhipov Vecheslav & S.Fedorova


The Eifman Ballet has developed a unique Russian dance language founded on classical ballet. Among the major players in the company’s outstanding success is the ballet tutor Olga Kalmykova whose training regimen hones dancers to their physical peak. She is formly a soloist and has been named an Honoured Artists of Russia. In this masterclass, Kalmykova will lead participants in a Russian ballet training session based on dance maestro Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova’s method and infused with modern choreography.

Instructor: Olga Kalmykova (Company Ballet Tutor)


Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Grand Theatre Backstage
Level 6 GR1
11am–1pm $220

Friendly Reminder

  • Quota: 25
  • In Russian with English interpretation
  • Suitable for participants aged 18 and above with professional ballet training
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Daring to be Different: Boris Eifman on Ballet

Boris Eifman reflects on his career as a choreographer and explores what drove him to create his pioneering dance pieces that place the inner state of the human mind and contemporary “Russian soul” centre stage. In this talk, Eifman also recounts the process of creating Anna Karenina, providing fresh insights on the art of ballet and in-depth understanding of his epic production of the Russian literary classic.

Speakers: Oleg Gabyshev, Nina Zmievets (Leading Soloists)


Moderator: Anna Chan


Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Administration Building
Level 4 AC1
7:30–9pm Free Admission

Friendly Reminder

  • In Russian with English and Cantonese interpretation
  • Limited seats available on a first-come-first-served basis
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Pre-performance Appreciation Talk

How has Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of Anna Karenina been transposed into dance? What are the special characteristics of Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg? Join dance critic Margaret Lau for half an hour before the show to find out everything you need to know to fully appreciate the performance.


Speaker: Margaret Lau


Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Level 4 Foyer
7pm Free Admission

Friendly Reminder

  • In Cantonese
  • Limited seats available on a first-come-first-served basis

Organised by the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong)

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Video Screening

The Road to Artistic Renown

Two documentary shorts in which leading participants relate the remarkable success stories of two legendary arts groups. Boris Eifman – The Man Who Dared explores the choreographer’s visionary view of dance and the unique Russian ballet language he created to communicate his perspective on human nature, along with stunning excerpts from many Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg productions. Beyond the Stage goes behind the scenes of the Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Turkey. In this work, French producer Xavier Dubuc recalls his life-changing encounter with the 100 Gypsy Violins in the early 1990s as Hungary emerged from Iron Curtain isolation, and how he subsequently took the musicians onto the world stage. Sándor Rigó Buffó, the Orchestra’s president, artistic director and conductor, also provides insight into the Gypsies, their passion for music and love of family.


Boris Eifman—The Man Who Dared
Russia / 2012 / Colour / 32’ / DVD
In Russian with English subtitles


Beyond the Stage
France / 2007 / Colour / 13’ / DVD
In French and Hungarian with English subtitles


Hong Kong Space Museum
Lecture Hall
2:30pm Free Admission

Friendly Reminder

  • Limited seats available on a first-come-first-served basis

Modern Ballet in Russia

By Natasha Rogai

Natasha Rogai
The dance critic of the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong correspondent of The Dancing Times.

Ballet, perhaps more than any other art form, is associated with Russia. It was there that classical ballet reached its apogee in the second half of the 19th century. Modern ballet sprang from the spate of creative talent (Fokine, Nijinsky, Balanchine…) which flowed from Russia in the early years of the 20th century and spread worldwide.

Ironically, modern ballet within Russia itself was to follow a different course from that spearheaded by Russian artists in other parts of the world. After a brief golden age in the 1920s, innovation was stifled by political repression and isolationism. Nonetheless, modern ballet in Russia has been notable for pushing the boundaries of technique, for its ability to connect with audiences and for its incomparable dancers. And from Alexander Gorsky’s 1900 Don Quixote to Yuri Grigorovich’s 1968 Spartacus to Boris Eifman’s 2005 Anna Karenina it has retained its uniquely Russian character - epic in scale, flamboyant in emotion, thrilling in virtuosity.

The experimental years

Russia’s first “modern” choreographer was Alexander Gorsky, who became Ballet Master of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow in 1900 aged 29. Influenced by the ideas of Isadora Duncan and Konstantin Stanislavsky, Gorsky re-staged classics like Swan Lake and Don Quixote to suit new audiences, making the plots more coherent, enhancing the drama and trimming extraneous sequences.

At the same time at the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg a young choreographer named Mikhail Fokine was creating controversy with his bold new ideas. Like Gorsky, Fokine aimed to strip ballet down to its essentials but he went further, introducing a freer style of movement and creating the first abstract ballets. His 1907 masterpiece Chopiniana or Les Sylphides, a pure expression of Chopin’s music, is still a staple of the international ballet repertoire over 100 years later.

Following the 1917 revolution, a wave of experimentation swept through the arts in Russia and ballet was no exception. Among the leaders of the new wave was Kasyan Goleizovsky, whose work was daringly avant-garde in both form and subject matter, notably in its eroticism. His unconventional, off-centre positioning of the body and interweaving chains of movement between dancers were a major influence on the young George Balanchine.

This new era for ballet reached its climax in 1930 with The Golden Age. Set to a score by Dmitri Shostakovich and choreographed by Leonid Yakobson, Vasili Vainonen and Vasili Chesnakov, this lively, athletic agitprop ballet was frowned upon by the Mariinsky’s management. It was dropped from the repertoire in 1931, as the ferment of new ideas of the 1920s were replaced by a period of extreme conservatism under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Socialist realism

In 1932 socialist realism became the official doctrine for all the arts in the USSR. Essentially this meant that all art must express or at least to conform to socialist ideas and be easily understood by the proletariat. Non-traditional forms, particularly abstract art of all kinds were condemned as “bourgeois” and “decadent”.

As a result, while choreographers in the West explored new concepts and the development of plotless work, ballet in Soviet Russia was invariably narrative in form and rigidly classical in technique. New productions depicted idealized proletarian heroes or stuck to “safe” material like adaptations of fairy tales. Choreographers either accepted these restrictions or saw their careers stalled – Goleizovsky and Yakobson both spent many years in relative obscurity.

However, if creativity suffered, technical prowess soared. Agrippina Vaganova perfected her system of teaching, with the exceptional harmony, flow and expressiveness of the whole body which distinguishes dancers trained in her method. Male dancing advanced dramatically, with increasingly spectacular feats of athleticism and double work was transformed, characterized by thrilling acrobatic lifts that sent ballerinas flying through the air in duets like Asaf Messerer’s Spring Waters.

Nor should the ballets of this era be dismissed out of hand. Many were well-made and entertaining and if not all have stood the test of time that is equally true of work created elsewhere. One that stands out is Leonid Lavrovksy’s 1940 Romeo and Juliet, a milestone in the development of dramatic ballet. The production, with its fusion of mime and dance, had an immense impact when it was performed overseas in 1959 and was a key influence on choreographers like Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko.

The Khrushchev thaw

After Stalin’s death in 1953, came the period known as “the thaw” under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. Artists were granted more creative freedom and exposure to what their counterparts were doing overseas.

One of those who benefited was Yakobson, who in 1955 returned to the Mariinsky to stage Spartacus and sparked controversy yet again with his radically non-classical choreography. Yakobson set up his own company in 1969 and, despite battling censorship and criticism from the establishment, continued to create innovative work until his death in 1975. Goleizovsky also came in from the cold, returning to the Bolshoi where he created Leili and Madjnun in 1964.

In 1958 appeared a new choreographer who was to become the most influential figure of the next 30 years in Soviet ballet: Yuri Grigorovich. Artistic Director of the Bolshoi from 1964 to 1995, his best-known ballets are Spartacus and Ivan the Terrible. Although often derided for his typically Soviet muscular, heroic style, Grigorovich in fact came to prominence through a fresh approach which eliminated conventional mime and drew its inspiration from the music. His ability to portray character and tell a story through pure movement give him much in common with his great contemporaries in the west, Cranko and MacMillan.

The most successful independent choreographer to emerge from the late Soviet era was Boris Eifman. A “choreographic dissident” when he began in the early 1970s, it is a sign of how times have changed that today he is one of the most respected figures in Russian theatre, with numerous honours and awards to his name.

The post-Soviet era

After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 Russia at last stepped back into the mainstream of international ballet. Work by the likes of Balanchine, Ashton, Forsythe and Tharp has entered the repertoire of the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi; Russian companies frequently tour overseas; top Russian dancers and teachers pursue careers both at home and abroad and it is a Russian, Alexei Ratmansky, who is today regarded as the world’s greatest classical choreographer.

“The ballet world in search of a major choreographer need search no more. He is Boris Eifman…” Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg was founded by Boris Eifman in 1977 and is the leading company in Russia dedicated to performing the works of a single choreographer. Frowned upon as “un-Soviet” in its early years, from 1988 onwards the company has enjoyed increasing success within Russia and on its frequent tours abroad.

Eifman describes his ballets as “psychological dramas”. Inspired by the lives of artists or based on literary classics. they focus on exploring the minds of tragic, tormented protagonists. These powerful works of theatre thrill audiences with their emotional intensity and acrobatic choreography and, if critical opinion is divided on the ballets themselves, there is invariably praise for the magnificent dancing and for Eifman’s showmanship.

Long a favourite with Hong Kong audiences, for its 2013 appearance the company will perform Anna Karenina. Eifman cuts down Tolstoy’s sprawling novel to concentrate on the character of Anna and her relationships with her husband, the cold-hearted Karenin and Vronsky, the lover for whom she sacrifices everything only to be abandoned by him. The result is a quintessential Eifman exploration of sexuality, passion and anguish, expressed through what the Chicago Sun Times described as “…a tsunami of pure movement”.

This article does not represent the view of the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
©All rights reserved by the IATC(HK). No part of this article may be reproduced without the prior permission of the IATC(HK) and/ or the author.

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