‘Up & Down’ has its highs and lows

Boris Eif­man’s dancers act as one ex­u­ber­ant ti­dal wave in a tor­tured melo­drama.

Los Angeles Times - - POP & HISS - By Laura Bleiberg cal­en­dar@la­times.com

Boris Eif­man’s “Up & Down,” which had its West Coast pre­miere at the Segerstrom Cen­ter for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Fri­day night, is the Rus­sian chore­og­ra­pher’s eighth mod­ern-style ballet to be pre­sented in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 15 years.

This one cov­ers the same ter­rain of his other dance-melo­dra­mas of emo­tion­ally tor­tured in­di­vid­u­als; there’s the same theme of in­ner and outer lives in con­flict. The re­ward is how gor­geously his 50 or so dancers per­form this nar­row, semi-clas­si­cal vo­cab­u­lary.

Fans get what they ex­pect from the 68-year-old avun­cu­lar, black-garbed artist, judg­ing from their stand­ing ova­tion. So does a critic who tends to dis­like the oeu­vre. (My one ex­cep­tion is “Red Giselle,” a bi­og­ra­phy and night­mar­ish take on the ballet world.)

Rather than re­peat my­self, I de­cided on a change in per­spec­tive. Clear­ing cob­webs from my head, I viewed “Up & Down” through Eif­man’s own in­ten­tions. Does he suc­ceed, at least, on his own terms? That is, does he de­liver psy­cho­log­i­cally steeped dance-theater?

That much he does. Set in the Roar­ing ’20s, “Up & Down” fol­lows a de­voted psy­chi­a­trist (Oleg Gaby­shev) who falls in love with his schiz­o­phrenic pa­tient (Lyubov An­dreyeva). Her ill­ness is at­trib­uted to an in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship with her fa­ther (Jiri Jelínek).

Pa­tient and psy­chi­a­trist marry, she forces him to aban­don his clinic and, once out­side in the swing­ing Charleston-hop­ping big­bad world, they give in to soul-destroying ex­cesses. The psy­chi­a­trist goes mad, re­turn­ing to his asy­lum as a pa­tient, and the ballet ends.

Eif­man be­gan this cre­ation as a two-act adap­ta­tion of F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s “Ten­der Is the Night.” It still owes so much to Fitzger­ald’s last-com­pleted novel that it’s disin­gen­u­ous of Eif­man to be telling in­ter­view­ers that it is en­tirely his own story.

The story’s sur­feit al­lows Eif­man to in­dulge in os­ten­ta­tious and ex­trav­a­gant mo­men­tum and ges­tures, and he’s very good at that. As in his other works, the duets are high­lights of bod­ies mo­men­tar­ily frozen in as­ton­ish­ing shapes of im­pres­sive dif­fi­culty. It’s like watch­ing a si­lent movie: Ev­ery­thing is revved up.

He stacks the deck, so to speak, with rav­ish­ing dancers who are highly ac­com­plished tech­ni­cians and artists. They have a feral fe­roc­ity, an in­ten­sity that be­gins in the gut — dare I say al­most like the Martha Gra­ham tech­nique — and spreads out­ward to highly arched feet (no toe shoes), through elon­gated limbs and an­i­mated faces. They could teach Amer­i­can ballet dancers a thing or two about us­ing their eyes.

Gaby­shev truly be­comes the nerdy, tweedy doc­tor who qui­ets his pa­tients with ma­gi­cian-style waves of his hands. He sym­pa­thet­i­cally hooks us for the whole tragic jour­ney as he sinks into dis­turbed obliv­ion with mes­mer­iz­ing panache.

An­dreyeva’s in­génue part is far less nu­anced; she smiles wide and leaps hugely. Like an ac­com­plished aeri­al­ist, she holds grav­ity-de­fy­ing poses.

Jelínek and Dmitry Fisher as Buddy, the pa­tient’s lover, were dis­tin­guished part­ners; all looked ef­fort­less.

The rest of the com­pany, in­clud­ing long­time Eif­man prin­ci­pal Maria Abashova as the f lam­boy­ant movie star, dances as one ex­u­ber­ant ti­dal wave. Olga Shaish­me­lashvili’s bright cos­tumes en­hanced their glam­our looks.

But yes, there’s much that is cringe-wor­thy. Eif­man man­han­dles Gersh­win’s “Con­certo in F” and “I Got Rhythm.” The rest of the patch­work score in­cludes recorded se­lec­tions by Franz Schu­bert, Al­ban Berg, Jo­hann Strauss II, Fred­eric Chopin and Arnold Schoen­berg.

The sana­to­rium was one of­fen­sive cliché of pi­geon­toed, loop­ily smil­ing pa­tients; the sui­ci­dal one wears a noose around his neck.

If you want more of Eif­man, his troupe per­forms a dif­fer­ent pro­gram, “Rodin,” at the Mu­sic Cen­ter Fri­day through Sun­day.

Pho­tog raphs by Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

OLEG GABY­SHEV hooks his au­di­ence as he sinks into dis­turbed obliv­ion with mes­mer­iz­ing panache in “Up & Down” at the Segerstrom Cen­ter for the Arts.

LYUBOV AN­DREYEVA leaps hugely as she holds grav­ity de­fy­ing poses like an ac­com­plished aeri­al­ist.

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