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Boris Eifman (Choreography)

Noted by The New York Times as today’s "most successful Russian choreographer," Boris Eifman is one of the major figures in modern ballet. Earning the title of "The People’s Artist of Russia"—the highest level of distinction for a performing artist in the former Soviet Union—he has also garnered significant awards such as the prestigious Russian equivalent of the Tony Award—"The Golden Mask"—and the "Triumph" Award, given to outstanding Russian artists for lifetime contributions to performing arts.

He is also a recipient of Russian "Ballet" Magazine’s "Soul of Dance" Award for choreographic achievement, which equals the prestigiousness of Dance Magazine Award in the U.S.

The level of success that Eifman currently enjoys has been well balanced by the hardships of having to invent himself in a closed society of the Soviet Era. Born in the Siberian town of Rubtsovsk in 1946, Eifman spent his early childhood in an underground building, where his family shared living space with other engineers summoned by the Stalin government to help the Soviet war efforts. He began his artistic journey at the age of 7, when, after Stalin’s death, the family was able to move to Kishinev, Moldavia and young Eifman could begin to study dance in a Young Pioneers club, as did many Soviet Children.

At the age of 13, he decided to be a choreographer—a resolution that he noted then in his diary and that he still carries forward with fervor and dedication of a truly gifted artist.

Enrolling in 1966 in the newly formed choreography department of the Leningrad Conservatory, Eifman commanded the attention of local critics as early as 1970, when he premiered his widely acclaimed ballet called Icarus.

He then also attracted attention of the school’s officials, who admonished Eifman against making ballets that did not deal with Soviet themes. That same year, he became the official choreographer of the Vaganova Academy, the Kirov Ballet’s school, and had the opportunity to choreograph for numerous television programs and ice shows. In 1972, Eifman choreographed Gaianeh for the Maly Opera and Ballet Theatre. The ballet became an overwhelming success, resulting in a widely popular film version that was released in New York in 1979. In 1975, he choreographed Firebird for the Kirov Ballet.

When in 1977 he finally received permission to form his own dance troupe, Eifman’s company immediately began touring in Russia, performing to sold-out houses of soviet fans, hungry for original artistic expression. Despite the pressure to leave the country for not making "Soviet art," Boris Eifman stayed in St. Petersburg and continued to create his ballets to tremendous popular acclaim, yet without any government subsidies. The company existed solely on box office returns.

Unable to tour internationally during the first 10 years of its existence for political reasons, Eifman Ballet received great international acclaim with its first performance abroad at the Champs Elysees Theatre in Paris. The controversy following that performance sent Eifman Ballet on tours throughout Western and Eastern Europe, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Israel, and Latin America.

Despite the fact that it was not until January of 1998 that Eifman Ballet made its smashing U.S. debut at New York City Center, Eifman’s work received recognition in the West as early as 1978, when The New York Times reviewed one of his company’s Moscow recitals. Other films had covered the life and work of Boris Eifman: In 1991, St. Petersburg State TV Channel released the film Eifman: The Man Who Dared, and in 1998, Russian State TV Channel broadcast a documentary film about the Eifman Ballet’s 20th Anniversary celebration at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre entitled The Triumph at Bolshoi.

Responding to enormous success following its first two seasons in New York, Eifman will bring his ballet troupe with a new premiere for the now traditional season at City Center in the spring of 2000. Following the New York engagement, the company will embark on its extensive First North American Tour.

Eifman’s first "Golden Mask" was awarded to him in 1997 for his ballet Tchaikovsky, and in 1999 he received another "Golden Mask" Award for his achievement in the art of ballet. "Triumph" Award was given to Eifman in 1996 for his outstanding production, The Karamazovs.

Deeply concerned about the subject matter of his ballets, Eifman is not the first in Russian ballet to explore philosophical issues through emotionalism and theatricality by fusing the expressiveness of modern dance with the language of classical ballet. Introduced by Jean-Georges Noverre in 18th century and rediscovered by Michel Fokine in the early 1900s, this artistic approach is not new to the Russian stage. But, as Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times, though he may not be the first, "He is arguably the best."


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