Pros: Phenomenal dancing from this internationally renowned company. Watching Rodin’s masterpieces come to life is a real delight.
Cons: In some scenes the story is hard to follow. The energy dips in the second half, but the closing scenes are electric.
Rodin – the latest offering from the Saint Petersburg Eifman Ballet – hones in on the double life of the world famous French sculptor. Auguste Rodin sustained a fifteen-year passionate and stormy relationship with his disciple, muse and mistress, Camille Claudel, while never fully abandoning his life-long and unloved companion, Rose Beuret. This show uses these two entangled and blighted romances to suggest both the source and high cost of Rodin’s creative process. Tragedy, love, genius, art, jealousy and madness are all in the mix. And what better venue than the grandeur and scale of the London Coliseum for this exploration of artistic greatness?
The ballet opens and closes in an asylum where a now rejected and insane Camille is housed, suffering bouts of jealousy and paranoia. From there we flit forwards and backwards in time to Camille and Rodin’s early romance, his on-going relationship with Rose, and his eventual abandonment of Camille. Eifman’s choreography works well to express the power dynamics between artist and muse, as well as between lovers. They move in fluid, sweeping gestures, with Rodin pushing and manipulating his women as he might a piece of plasticine. The key difference between the women is that Camille ignites Rodin’s desire whereas grey-haired Rose – when she managed to do enough jumps and lunges to get his attention – is a mere physical object to be studied.
The focus of the show, however, remains with Rodin and his work. The set is a minimal industrialised art studio with little warmth. It is visually compelling to watch the tortured artist create some of his most well known masterpieces using live bodies. The dancers in flesh coloured outfits form a compact ball. As Rodin sculpts, the ‘clay’ surges upwards, with heads and arms forming to reveal such works as The Kiss, The Crouching Woman, and his Dante inspired The Gates of Hell. In stark contrast, Camille, an equally ambitious but ignored sculptor, pounds away nearby on immobile lumps of clay.
The most arresting visual moment is towards the end when a billowing black cloud – a massive stage-wide shiny black sheet pulled by dancers, overtakes Camille. One moment it consumes her, the next she is walking through it, before being completely swallowed by her madness. It’s one of those unforgettable visual scenes that takes your breath away.
The story seems to go off track in the second half. The psychology of the domestic drama that dominates the first act, gives way to a number of upbeat ensemble pieces. The can-can dancers and the snooty art critics that survey Rodin’s works are humorous to watch, but I became restless at failing to understand their significance. By the end I felt that the character of Camille and her relationship with Rodin seemed unresolved or abandoned too early. And I didn’t have a particularly strong sense of Rose. So an emotional connection was lacking with both women, and to some extent with Rodin himself. The pre-recorded score of well known French classical pieces seems on the stagnant side for such daring choreography. Part of me wonders whether a modern music score might have been worth risking. I couldn’t help but hear Unchained Melody in my mind when Rodin and Camille were moulding clay together!
Overall, Rodin is a mesmerizing show that manages to illuminate some of the mysteries of the artist’s creative process. The dancers achieve impossible long-limbed feats of grace and feeling, particularly Lyubov Andreyeva’s charismatic Camille, and Yulia Manjeles’ restrained Rose. The costumes are beautifully designed and work well to enhance the stream of movements that suit the alternating rhythms and fits of passion and despair.
Choreographer: Boris Eifman
Composers: Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns and Jules Massenet
Booking Until: 17th April 2014
Box Office: 020 7845 9300
Booking Link: http://www.eno.org/whats-on/other/rodin