“The Karamazovs” or “Karamazov Brothers” is a ballet in two acts based on the final novel of Dostoyevsky, which has a tangled, complex plot. Essentially it is a passionate and philosophical novel that enters into ethical debates about God, free will and morality expressed though the triangle of three brothers and their father, Fyodov. The brothers Dimitri, Iván and Aleksei are bound by the dark, poisonous liquid flowing through their veins. Poisonous because they will destroy each other, as family feuds often do.
It is so difficult to express the complexity of Dostoyevsky’s novel in dance alone but Eifman achieves this admirably with the tense dramatic setting, the music and the choreography creating a beautiful if melancholic performance. Rachmaninov’s orchestral score consists of reds and blues as reflected in the lighting, which uses these colours predominantly; the combination a contrast of sorrow and heartbreak twisted together with danger and passion. It is visually arresting, at times disturbing with the swirling mist and taut, expressive dancing.
Iván is the representative of the intellectual Russian, who falls in love with Katerina who herself has sworn herself to Dimitri. Grushenka, the Gypsy girl, enjoys playing Fyodov and Dimitri against each other, a flirtatious passionate Carmen.
The youngest Karamazov, Aleksei is the monk who represents religion and is trying to make peace within the family as the rivalry between his father and Dimitri for Grushenka is tearing them apart. When Fyodov is murdered, Dimitri is accused although innocent.
Iván and Aleksei argue about religion, existence and God. Iván visits Dimitri in prison and Aleksei who cannot bear human suffering frees all the prisoners, who half-crazed by their imprisonment cause chaos when released.
The stage set of a castle with double layers morphed into a Siberian prison and finally at the close of the performance a crucifix rests high above the stage. The dancers wrapped themselves around the steel framework so at times it appeared as a living moving stage set. Swirling smoke engulfs the dancers as they rise and fall to the heavy notes of Rachmaninov.
The finale leaves Fyodov dead, Dimitri in prison, Iván insane and Aleksei realises despite his religious hopes he cannot save his family. They are all joined by blood but it is tangled and twisted and impossible. The overwhelming and powerful score by Rachmaninov is blended with the music of Wagner, Mussorgsky and Russian Gypsy music. Choreographed by Boris Eifman, the dancers twist and turn with grace and then at times harsh angular movements.
The coquettish Grushenka spirals and snaps across the stage to Gypsy music evoking a melancholic Argentine tango, her body like elastic that stretches and pulls at the hearts of all the men who are transfixed by this otherwordly creature, dressed in red. She is a symbol of danger that threatens the delicate balance of the family of brothers. Inevitably it will end in tragedy.
It is dramatic, obscure and bewildering but ultimately a gripping ballet however deeply you choose to read it. The dance speaks but it speaks in Russian; I was drowning in a sea of Cyrillic although none of this language was spoken, it is unmistakably Russian.
Deciphering the complexities of the piece is not necessary as the awesome power of Eifman’s choreography silenced the people talking in row seven better than a stun gun, and at the end of the two hours the auditorium was silent save for what was taking place on the stage. This is a first for my experience in the Erkel Theatre; for once no one spoke for the last half an hour.
Leaving the theatre, in the distance on the main boulevard were the flashing red and blue lights of emergency vehicles, those colours of danger combined together which signify a warning; pain or tragedy. It is strange how colour is such a mood evoker; the visual becomes something which embraces all the senses, how it can speak about passion, fear, danger, melancholy.
The choreographer, Boris Eifman also designed the lighting for this performance. A lighting designer once described his role as being that of an editor. “I edit the musicals, the operas, the ballets and manipulate your mind into feeling whatever I want you to at a given moment,” he had explained. Eifman achieves just this in the dark tense “Karamazovs”; it is not just pretty colours rinsing through the stage but years of emotion.
Hungarian National Ballet
II János Pál papa tér
Friday June 26, 7pm
Saturday June 27, 7pm
Sunday June 28, 7pm
For tickets and information go to www.opera.hu