Russian Hamlet

A ballet by Boris Eifman

Music: Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Mahler

Sets and costumes: Vyacheslav Okunev

Light: Alexander Sivaev, Boris Eifman

In his performance, the choreographer focused on the figure of Paul I – one of the most mysterious and contradictory characters in Russian history. Boris Eifman restricted the chronological scope of the production to Paul’s life as the heir to the throne and brilliantly portrayed the tragic confrontation between this extraordinary and fragile personality and the hostile world built on violence, treachery and lies.


During the years of its active stage life, the ballet was performed with incredible success in the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, China, South Korea, Argentina and many other countries. “With so many new solutions and artistic metaphors, with such levels of emotional intensity, this time Eifman outperformed himself, as he really has no one to compete with. Two leading ballet critics Anna Kisselgoff and Clive Barnes unanimously gave him precedence in modern ballet,” wrote well-known journalist Bella Yezerskaya after watching Russian Hamlet. The New York Times in the review of the production said that Boris Eifman “has a way with electrifying images and theatrical fantasies that other choreographers do not.” In 2012 the ballet was taken out the repertoire.


In the jubilee 40th season of Eifman Ballet, Boris Eifman turns to Russian Hamlet again as part of the trend in which he revives his famous earlier productions. He re-interprets the choreographic score to make it even more inventive, refined and emotionally intensive while the plot of the ballet remains essentially unchanged.


“The life of Prince Paul, afterwards Paul I of Russia, bears a striking resemblance to that of Prince Hamlet; it is enigmatic in more than one aspect and full of mystical omens. Born with a happy and positive attitude, brilliantly educated, he was keen to prepare himself to serve his country. However, the assassination of his father, Emperor Peter III, his mother’s dislike, for Empress Catherine II distrusted her own son and heir, the environment of constant surveillance, intrigue, apprehension and humiliation was what eventually pushed Paul into the illusory world of fantasy and delusion, mania of persecution and spiritual isolation. From the days of his childhood he was prone to mysticism (Paul’s story of meeting the ghost of Emperor Peter the Great has been documented), and he presaged his own tragic end; this awareness made him passionately strive for power to secure time to embed his reforms for the benefit of Russia. His efforts not appreciated, he was cruelly assassinated by the court nobility and cursed by posterity.


The hero of our ballet is Prince Paul in his younger years. We depict him in the period when he was full of bright ideas, far-reaching ambitions, and about to encounter the first tragic turns in his life. In this ballet we search for an answer to Hamlet’s eternal dilemma: ‘To be, or not to be?’”.


Boris Eifman





Russia during the reign of Peter III. Catherine, the Emperor’s wife, is humiliated by the drunken debauchery of her unloved husband. Her Court Favorite aids her in staging a coup against the Emperor. Young Prince Paul becomes an involuntary witness to the assassination of his father.


Act I


We are in the chambers of the Royal Palace. Paul is lonely among hypocritical courtiers, in the atmosphere of meaningless fuss of the maids, gossip and intrigue. The Empress, his mother is inaccessible, always shielded by her Favorite. Catherine is not prepared to share her power. She keeps her son away from the affairs of state.

The Empress comes to a decision that an early marriage might divert the Heir from any contemplation of succeeding to the throne.

Paul is happy with his wife, but she is filled with ambitious plans – she puts pressure on her husband to contest his right for the throne of Russia. The Empress discovers the young bride's intentions. Lies and treachery are commonplace at court. Catherine's next scheme destroys the Heir's happy life in marriage following betrayal of his wife, who becomes the Favorite's prey. But even that is not enough: the death of his beloved is the price he pays for pursuit of the throne.


Act II


The labyrinths of the Royal Palace frighten Paul with cold hostility and take away the hope of breaking free from the power of the Empress. The Heir dreams of glorious military victories. But this is just an illusion of power.

In his reminiscences Paul sees his dead wife, his childhood, his murdered father.

The masquerade ball, presided over by the Empress, grows into an orgy. Paul invites Catherine to a theatrical performance. The actors, instructed by the Heir, play the scene of the murder of the king by his unfaithful wife and her lover. The Empress, who recognizes the allusion to her participation in the conspiracy, is furious. Paul for the first time finds strength to stand up to his mother.

The Favorite is in turmoil. With his caresses he tries to reclaim the Empress’ affection but in vain – he served his purpose.

The Ghost of the Heir’s father urges Paul to retaliate. In his imagination the Heir takes the longed for revenge: the Favorite dies in the arms of the phantom of the king he murdered. In the whirlwind of images Paul sees the Empress. Now it is her turn, he only has to wave his sword… but the Heir cannot deal a deadly blow to his mother.

The Empress’ price for the throne is complete spiritual isolation. Fear of death fills her soul.

Even dreams about ascension to the throne do not bring joy to Paul. He foresees the fatal ending of his short-lived rule. The Heir is not destined to attain the glory of his mother. And Paul understands: he is only a prisoner of his dreams, a reflection of his own anxious phantasmagoria.

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