Eifman Ballet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Looking for sex and violence? Check out the Eifman Ballet's Russian Hamlet: The Son of Catherine the Great. There's nothing polite or pretty about artistic director Boris Eifman's treatment of Czar Paul I's life, which bears some resemblance to Hamlet's: domineering mother, aided by her "favorite" (i.e., illicit lover), has father killed; son can't manage to take revenge. Love has nothing to do with Eifman's horrifying vision of domestic life; instead almost every image expresses hierarchy or domination. In an early scene between the son and his mother, the Empress, he butts his head into her side like a puppy fumbling for the teat; later she pulls his head to her stomach repeatedly, the picture of controlling motherhood. The Empress's train is the embodiment of her ambition and dominion--trailing the full width of the stage, it acts as both ceremonial canopy and tumbled bedclothes when she summons her favorite to her side. And clearly in Eifman's mind absolute power corrupts absolutely. In an early scene the son is surrounded by nursemaids in flowing gowns virtually bounding into his bassinet, eager to charm the young prince; the adult male legs thrusting out of it are a shock--and we understand that the boy has been completely infantilized. Slavishly his servants crawl after him; later, the prince treats his toy soldiers--then real soldiers--with the same expectation of devotion and immediate obedience. A mesmerizing storyteller here as in Red Giselle (performed in Chicago last April), Eifman foregrounds the psychology of his main characters in brilliantly devised movement and uses the ensemble to echo their feelings and the music (by Beethoven and Mahler). Underscoring Eifman's terrifying tale is Slava Okunev's expressionist set: looking up at towering columns and a balcony, we feel we're about to be crushed by the weight of a great palace. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500. Through April 8: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $27-$57.

--Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Valentin Baranovsky.

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