Up & Down – Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg: London Coliseum, 6 December 2016

Now you turn me

Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva are mad for Boris Eifman's Up & Down.

Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva are mad for Boris Eifman’s Up & Down.

This ballet has its title round the wrong way – it should be called Down & Up. The reason being that the first half of this tale based on Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of madness and the emptiness of the American dream, was a real downer while the second was so much perkier.

In truth, the first half was a bit of a mess. Boris Eifman has made a name for himself with his big, bold choreography, full of grand gestures and athletic movement, and there was plenty of that on display here. Where he’s not so consistent, however, is in his storytelling – it was all over the place.

Events happened with no real explanation or motivation and characters were often put on stage with no identification (Nicole’s father, for instance, looked no older than she did). The corps popped up at random moments to dance irrelevant jazz numbers completely at odds with the stark asylum the rest of the act was set in and the look-at-them-aren’t-they-funny attitude towards the mentally ill was questionable at best.

It was a surprise then in the second half when the narrative suddenly became clear as daylight. Freed from having to show the deep psychological insight that the melodramatic choreography couldn’t capture, the relatively simple matter of infidelity and regret proved much more satisfying. Suddenly we understood what the characters were doing, what their place in society was and also their emotions and desires. The corps too were much more integrated into the drama and their glamorous world became an effective foil to messed up loneliness of the main protagonists.

Oleg Gabyshev didn’t have the acting gravitas required to convince as the hapless Dick Diver (Fitzgerald was clearly having a laugh with that one) but as a dancer, and especially as a partner, he was excellent. Likewise for Dmitry Fisher as Nicole’s father; he got nowhere near making him look the monster he was. Far better at living the role was Maria Abashova – she camped it up big time a self-centred  movie star and proved very adept at waving a parasol and a sword around.

Leagues above the rest was Lyubov Andreyeva. Boy, can she move. Whether balletic, contemporary or throwing her lot in with jazz steps she was never less than compelling to watch. The only reason the first half of the show made it to the interval with any credibility was her nuanced portrayal of the wronged Nicole Warren. Her character truly developed and it was a shame that as the work progressed her involvement decreased.

Another genuine highlight was Olga Shaishmelashvili’s costumes. The more opulent the better; the women’s dresses were sexy but elegant and looked great being danced in. Zinovy Margolin’s designs were simple but very good at suggesting time and place. In the end I rather enjoyed Up & Down.

Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg’s Up & Down runs at the London Coliseum until 10 December 2016. Tickets can be found on the ENO website.

Gerard Davis

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2 Responses to Up & Down – Eifman Ballet of St Petersburg: London Coliseum, 6 December 2016

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