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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dancer Broadens Gender Horizons

Over the past 20 years, St. Petersburg's Boris Eifman Ballet Theater has distinguished itself as one of the preeminent -- and most controversial -- contemporary dance troupes in the world.

The unsettled arguments about Eifman's choreography in dance circles stem from his melding of classical and contemporary forms.

But the device that has most characterized Eifman's troupe is his almost total reliance on male dancers in lead roles and his refinement of the masculine duet -- where men dance together, not simply side by side.

One of the dancers Eifman has used to explore these male dynamics on stage is 28-year-old Igor Markov, a rising star and graduate of the Vaganova school who dances classical and contemporary roles with equal skill.

Classically proportioned with elegantly sculptured muscles, Markov has a serious, melancholic face -- which has the capability to instantly break into a genuine smile. The combined effects of Markov's body, his classical training and Eifman's choreography have made him into one of the principle artistic experiments on new male roles in classical ballet.

"We need not present classical works as a dry display of technique and variations. In Eifman's Theater even the classical ballets 'Don Quixote' and 'Red Giselle' are performed differently," said Markov. "If you show only the relationship between men and women the interaction can become predictable. Yet, if you show the relationship between men it is a very interesting dialogue and the audience seeks to understand what the dialogue is about."

This interaction between male dancers is essential in such male oriented works as Eifman's "Tchaikovsky" and "The Karamazovs," Markov said. In "Tchaikovsky," Eifman sought to explore the genius of the famous Russian composer who was deeply troubled by his homosexuality and his efforts to keep it secret.

In the ballet, Markov dances Tchaikovsky's gay double, and Albert Galichanin dances the Tchaikovsky in society. The relationship between the two sides of the man culminate in a series of enticing duets between Galichanin and Markov.

In "The Karamazovs," Markov dances an insightful and compassionate interpretation of the youngest brother, Alexei. Eifman is able through male duets in "The Karamazovs" to shoot for intense emotional moods like those in the Dostoevsky novel from which it borrows its name.

"When the choreographer gives the chance for the interaction of male bodies, this body must speak and convey to the audience a philosophical understanding on the relationship between men,"Markov said. "This is why Eifman chose this topic for a ballet, understanding that Dostoevsky's ideas could be communicated through male bodies."

Even "Red Giselle" -- Eifman's first ballet starring a female -- still lends itself to the male duet when Markov is paired with Galichanin as both vie for the attention of Olga Spesivtseva, played by Yelena Kuzmina.

"Red Giselle" depicts the life of Spesivtseva, the classical and expressionist Russian ballerina whose most widely acclaimed role was "Giselle." Spesivtseva fled Russia in 1924 for Paris with the help of her Chekist lover, played by Galichanin.

Markov's role in "Red Giselle" is Serge Lifar, the real life dancer who danced opposite Spesivtseva in her performances of "Giselle," and he captures the magnetic, seductive nature of Lifar with uncanny precision in the Eifman production.

"Today, there is yet another, different emotional relationship to these works, to classical ballet," Markov said. "So that even the relationship on stage between, let's say, Albert and Giselle, I believe it is possible and essential to present them with a modern interpretation. Therefore, I want to dance even classical works from a new perspective."

But Markov stressed that it is not simply the portrayal of men from a sexual point of view that is interesting to him. This was especially important to him, he said, in his portrayal of Tchaikovsky.

"In 'Tchaikovsky' it is not necessary to simply highlight his homosexuality -- I need to show how his emotional condition influenced his personality and his genius as a composer," he said. "What is the relationship between the two men? Not simply seeing men from a sexual point of view, yet listening to how they speak with each one and other, how they beautifully communicate with each other. It is dance, a ritual, a ritual of the relationship between two men."

Male duets did not begin with Eifman. It was choreographer Maurice Bejart who created dramatic male duets and male ballets such as "Le Sacre du Printemps" and "1830" for the Kirov Ballet.

So what sets aside choreographers like Eifman and Bejart in their understanding of male roles?

"An interesting, intelligent choreographer -- Bejart, for example, -- will not simply convey a sexual relationship between men; he goes much beyond this," Markov said.

"I believe this can be very beautiful. I believe the love between men expresses a very intense emotional relationship."

In continuing this tradition begun by Bejart, Eifman is carving a path to the development of our understanding of classical ballet, evoking new definitions and interpretations of male roles in ballet.

"For the further development of the male role in ballet, if we can take this understanding of men ... in [these] various duets ... we can see that classical ballet and roles such as Giselle and Swan Lake can also be danced in another way," Markov said. "Thus, the potential for new role models for men and new interpretations of classical roles -- not simply just a beautiful prince. In this way classical ballet can evolve and be extremely interesting, not simply a fairy tale, but the communication of serious philosophical ideas -- why not ?"