Eifman Ballet, Up & Down at the London Coliseum 6/12/16

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Opening the programme to discover your evening’s viewing is set is a psychiatric clinic doesn’t especially fill one with hope for an entertaining evening, however Boris Eifman and his chic St Petersburg company deliver an amusing, stylish and original performance in this multilayered story, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s Tender is the Night.

Up and Down has a lot it wants to say. There is certainly parody of 1920s-style mental institutes with gurning loonies played admirably by dancers of the company, and a patient’s father symbolising the power of money and its destructive power. Humour, however, is never far away and any numbers that deal with the heavier issues of incest and identity crisis are sandwiched between cruise ship-style set-pieces of the entire ensemble serving up bling and blitz in a nightclub or similar. One imagines Eifman has his tongue firmly placed in his cheek.

Shades of Fitzgerald and Gatsby are never far away with Zinovy Margolin’s luxurious designs and Olga Shaishmelashvili’s opulent costuming. Armed with Eifman’s expressive choreography and great clarity in the telling of this dark and satirical story, it’s a highly original evening that will linger in the audience’s mind (like it or not) for a while to come.

Oleg Gabyshev takes on the lead role of bumbling but likeable Dick Driver, a talented young psychiatrist who takes great efforts to care for his unpredictable cohort of patients. Nicole Warren (Lyubov Andreyeva) is a new patient to the clinic, under supervision from her sinister father (Dmitry Fisher).

Eifman’s choreography is contemporary, almost gymnastic, with Gabyshev and Andreyeva’s (patient Nicole Warren) pas des deux involving clambering and climbing over each other as their feelings develop over Act One. Andreyeva is a typically Russian performer in every sense with a wonderfully athletic attack, also bringing the required grace and elegance to the romantic storyline too.

smk-up-down-wrapped-pdd_1000The audience feel bereft of her when Driver starts cavorting with an aloof movie star in Act Two as he descends into insanity himself. That’s not before Eifman has had a laugh with us, depicting Nicole and Dick’s wedding in a mental asylum where the patients dress them in tatty white sheets and they merrily dance around waving childish balloons on sticks before the newlyweds continue on their journey.

The ensemble pieces are highlights of Eifman’s talent, with their 1920s vibe and glamorous showgirl costuming – shades of the mental asylum seen earlier feel far from these showy set-pieces. The entrance of the movie star, Rosemary (Maria Abashova), who Dick later falls for, is full of attitude and grandeur from Abashova, who seems utterly unattainable to Dick. Meanwhile, the ensemble busily follow her about the set of a film and to a premiere carrying the story along with ease that’s a pleasure to see.

As Eifman Ballet prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the company certainly shows no sign of losing any of their zany originality. British audiences may find his exaggerated and humorous take on insanity and mental fragility a topic not for entertainment, but for those who can put that to one side, this is a sumptuous work, full of theatricality and physicality that’s not to be missed.

4 stars

First published on BroadwayWorld.com

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