Freedom, anarchy, God, responsibility: for Boris Eifman, these are the key themes in the story of The Brothers Karamazov. In The Karamazovs, his already classic choreography based on the work, he expresses the taut web of relationships between Dostoevsky's characters through what he himself terms “psychological ballet”, in which the challenge is to use the language of dance not only to move the story along, but also to reveal what makes the characters tick. The final result is a fresh and unique reading of the novel, and one which also ventures a guess as to how the story might continue after the last page has been turned.
The story of the ballet is fundamentally different from those the Budapest audience are used to. Instead of a plot in the traditional sense of the word - which is entirely based on Dostoevsky's novel - the emphasis here is rather on human characters and their relationships.
The three Karamazov brothers gather in their father's house to persuade him to distribute the wealth of the family amongst them. Fyodor Pavlovich, however, refuses to give them their shares, even taking pleasure in the tense situation this creates. He is a drunken and lustful old man whose approach to life is carefree, and whose only concerns are himself and carnal pleasures.
His eldest son from his first marriage Dmitri most resembles his father, which is not accidental as only he grew up in this milieu. He fritters away his money extravagantly, and is also a man of unbridled impulses, although his character is more complex than that of his father. Recently he had bailed out of his debt a colonel, whose daughter Katerina fell in love with him and became his fiancée. She recognises the potential for good in him, and wants to save him from himself and a fate similar to Fyodor Pavlovich's. Dmitri rejects her, with good reason for refusing marriage: Grushenka, the cunning and unpredictable gypsy girl who lives in the Karamazov house, and coquettes with Fyodor Pavlovich and his future heir Dmitri at the same time. Grushenka watches with pleasure the rivalry of father and son as they battle for her.
The two younger Karamazov brothers were born from their father's second marriage, and were raised away from home after their mother's death. They have returned to the family nest on Dmitri's invitation. Ivan, the elder brother was a child genius; he went to university, and writes articles for newspaper. He represents the desperately contemplative Russian intellectual, and falls in love with Katerina who has a noble pride. The girl rebuffs him as her vow links her to Dmitri. Ivan loathes his father and is in unceasing conflict with his elder brother.
The youngest boy Aleksei is the 'monk', a representative of religion, who tries to accept and love everybody as they are. In spite of the many differences which divide them, the three brothers are tied to each other by invisible threads: the 'stinking, sinful' blood of their father, Fyodor Pavlovich runs in their veins. Aleksei tries in vain to make peace within the family. He can see the bitter rivalry between his father and brother Dmitri for the favours of Grushenka, his father's constant drunken orgies and the desperate emotional wavering of Katerina Ivanovna, who is unable to decide whether it is Dmitri or Ivan she loves. But not only is Aleksei incapable of helping his family, he also discovers within himself the despicable traits of 'Karamazovshchina', the Karamazov blood.
The whole family is drawn into the competition for Grushenka between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri Karamazov. Fyodor Pavlovich is killed ... and Dmitri is accused of murdering his father.
Dmitri is in prison. He is innocent of the crime he is accused of, and the loss of Grushenka is a mortal blow for him; he feels alone in the world.
Ivan and Aleksei argue endlessly about the meaning of existence and the human soul. Their argument materializes in the figures of the Great Inquisitor and Jesus Christ, who has returned to the sinful world according to the legend invented by Ivan. The Inquisitor (Ivan) asserts that only tyranny can give people, the 'weak creatures such as they have been created, peaceful, humble happiness'. But Christ (Aleksei) wishes to emancipate people from their fears and provide them with 'a free heart so that they may determine what is good and what is evil'. A gesture from The Inquisitor - and an obedient crowd is ready to crucify Christ again. 'Why have you come here to hinder us? … Be off and never come back, never!'
Ivan is lacerated by pangs of conscience: he accuses himself of toying with the idea of killing his father. Reality and fantasy become confused in his mind and the ghost of Fyodor Pavlovich appears to him.
Ivan comes to visit Dmitri in prison in order to confess to him his sinful desires. Despite the prison bars, the brothers are reconciled and they now love each other: their common fate and common sufferings have finally brought them closer to one another.
Aleksei cannot watch human suffering and, driven by love for his fellow men, he frees the convicts incarcerated in 'The House of the Dead'. Their heads reeling from the belief that 'everything is permitted', the convicts destroy everything in their path.
The family comes to a dreadful end: Fyodor Pavlovich is murdered, Dmitri is in jail, and Ivan goes insane. Aleksei realises that in spite of his love and devotion, even he cannot save his family.