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Northrop dance concludes season with Eifman Ballet

The 2008/09 Northrop dance series began with an international splash: Merce Cunningham’s “Ocean,” in a quarry near St. Cloud, which attracted press from around the globe. The season finale, this Friday and Saturday, brings Russian contemporary ballet back to Minneapolis.

Eifman Ballet, from St. Petersburg, Russia, returns with another of Boris Eifman’s psychologically dramatic story ballets augmented with atmospheric lighting, sumptuous costuming, and a robust choreography of conflict and desire. Remember his “Red Giselle” (2000), “Russian Hamlet” (2002) or “Anna Karenina” (2007) performed in previous Northrop engagements? This time the prolific Eifman has turned his attention to Alexander Pushkin’s 19th-century novel of love, morality and loyalty, “Eugene Onegin.”

“It’s gorgeous, dramatic, theatrical, glamorous, basically over-the-top—just want everyone needs after a long winter,” enthuses Ben Johnson, the dance series’ curator and Northrop’s director of concerts and lectures.

Johnson adds that he asked Eifman why he chose Pushkin’s novel as the source for the ballet. Eifman responded: “It still affects me today! It is an encyclopedia of Russian life in which Pushkin saw and created an amazingly accurate archetype of the Russian character of his time, fashioning a poetic image of the Russian soul, mysterious, unpredictable and incredibly sensual.”

Sounds like a singular response from a choreographer who grew up in Siberia (where his father, an engineer, had been exiled) and lived in an underground pit; who at age 13 began keeping a movement diary; who choreographed a piece for his own ballet company to Western rock music and was asked by the KGB to emigrate (and refused); and who innovated a company and a dance vocabulary in 1977 under the spectre of Soviet repression—not to mention the twin monoliths of Russian ballet, the Kirov and the Bolshoi.

Whether you come to love Eifman’s artistic vision, or deplore its excess, one thing’s for sure: Eifman’s ballets are difficult to forget.

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Northrop Auditorium, 84 Church Street S.E., Minneapolis, 612-624-2345 $10-$65.

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