The Wang Theatre in Boston’s Chinatown was a singularly appropriate venue for the world premiere of Boris Eifmann’s Who’s Who, a broadway-esque ballet about the adventures of Russian immigrants to the U.S. during the 1920s. A broadly played dance pantomime and costume piece, the atmosphere is reminiscent of recent Broadway production works as Ragtime or Titanic, punctuated with the burlesque humor of Funny Girl or Victor/Victoria underscored by the shrugging soberness and concern with the phenomenon of change of Fiddler on the Roof.
Although the ballet had the general style and staging of a music theatre piece, the dancing defied the conventions of the genre. Ever inventive, the choreography had a surprising newness, appropriate to the setting and theme of the story, a pathos and wackiness that never grew tame or tired, and a resigned finish, with the gaudily clad dancers and faded god hanging over them that mirrors life, if not the conventions of art.
Precise and fluent in technique, formally tight and masterful, principal dancers Alexey Turko and Igor Siadzko demonstrated well what partnering between two males can be. In sequences alternately comic and moving, the two men’s strength in maintaining off-centered balances, and in supporting one another through them, in lifts and in conveying intimacy – along with their gifted clowning – matched point for point ballerina Vera Arbuzova potency and gender-bending technique. In fact, gender differences throughout the piece are deliberately blurred, adding to the continuing choreographic surprises.
Set an amalgam of jazz pieces by American artists such as Scott Joplin (“The Entertainer”), Duke Ellington (“It Don’t Mean a Thing, If it Ain’t Got that Swing”), Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck and others, with theatre-style sets and lighting, the story revolves around the adventures of a pair of dancers from Russia trying their chances in America. It is in many ways the story of crushed expectations and of making do with less, of the inevitable brushes with the American underworld and of struggles in establishing and maintaining personal integrity and identity.
In creating this piece Eifmann continues to fulfill the promise shown in his previous choreography. It is a ballet audiences will want to see again.