The Eifman Ballet’s “Rodin”

Friday night, the cool dark of the evening has gently settled over campus, and I find my way to Cal Performances, to the empty seat in row “k” of the orchestra pit. My heart is pounding with anticipation. Boris Eifman (choreographer) is sitting three rows behind me in the center isle and my mind keeps flashing back to my first experience seeing Eifman’s art. Eight years ago, I was squirming with anticipation on the mezzanine at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in L.A. waiting to see Anna Karenina whose emotionally raw and visually stunning performance left my 13 year old self in tears at the shear magnitude of the beauty and raw artistry of what I had just witnessed. The image of Anna standing in a spotlight surrounded by darkness, snow falling gently from above, before she takes her own life has never left me.

“Perhaps (since I am now  a ‘sophisticated’ wine drinking 21 year old)” I thought to myself, “the experience will be different this time around . . .” I was wrong, entirely wrong.  The end of Rodin brought me back to exactly where I was almost a decade ago, an insignificant girl who had just had the opportunity, the immense gift, of peeking in on an overwhelming, convoluted, sculpted, masterpiece.

Rodin premiered in 2011 in St. Petersburg and had one tour in the state prior to this. The performance exposes the tragic, passionate, chaotic relationship between French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his talented apprentice Camille Claudel which leads to Claudel’s decent into insanity.

The ballet begins with Camille Claudel (performed by the stunning Lyubov Andreyeva) in an  18th century asylum surrounded by a corps de ballet comprised of mentally unstable young women their heads cocked quizzically to the side and making staccato bird like movements. Eifman presents this “corps de insane” multiple times incorporating absurdity and humor into their crazed, flailing movement that leaves the audience with an overwhelming sense of loneliness, especially as we watch Camille in juxtaposition to the corps around her. We want her to stay unique, to keep the part of herself (her sanity her expression) yet at the same time this gift of expression is what is isolating her from those around her from the institutionalized women, from the critiques, from Rodin.  She is quickly distinguished from the others in the institution and is left alone sitting on the floor down stage center.  She is small against the vast darkness behind her. Her arms wrapped desperately around her body as though she is trying to keep the broken pieces of herself together. Camille thrusts her legs apart suddenly and looks straight at the audience with eyes that burn with the disquieting fires of insanity.  Rodin  watches her from the outskirts of her spotlight.

Throughout the Ballet, Rodin (Oleg Gabyshev) performs with both nonchalance and passion that seems entirely organic. He becomes fascinated with the beauty of the women around him and through the ballet we see the first time he meets his loyal wife Rose Beuret (Nina Zmievets) and later his mistress Claudel. Once he seduces them with his ingenuity and artistry he begins to physically mold their bodies into the contorted shapes that he sees in his mind regardless of their love for him or their comfort. It becomes clear that Rodin does not love these women, but rather the art that they inspire in him. The power of his art becomes conversely brilliant and sinister. In order to create art that transcends the limitations of time, he destroys the relationships and the people around him. In order to create his sculptures he must beat them violently into submission–destroy in order to create. The women who inspire these great pieces are merely collateral damage in his violent journey of expression.

There is an eerie overlapping structure of artistry within this ballet: Rodin turns dancers into sculptures and sculptures into dancers, while each ballerina is perfectly sculpted piece of anatomical art, and behind it all is the omnipotent sculptor of the ballet itself–Boris Eifman. The ballet ends with Rodin illuminated and separated from the audience by a scrim.  He is violently beating his medium with a hammer as the curtain closes. The clangs of his hammer echo through the performance hall,  the sound ceases but we see that Rodin continues to beat his amorphous work. As the curtain closes, he is alone, back to the audience, consumed by his true muse–his art.

Words cannot describe the level of technique and expression that these dancers brought to the performance. Lyubov Andreyeva (Claudel) was disjointedly seamless, and both brilliant and broken. She commanded the audiences attention and her Battement were long and beautiful, her refined hand movements staccato and precise.  Nina Zmievets (Rose Beuret)  had a less ostentatiously confident physical vocabulary and was often supporting Rodin who takes her love for granted.He even literally roles over her at one point. Zmievet is not passionate in the same manner as Andreyeva, her love is seen in her commitment to Rodin and her hard working structured nature. Her movements at home are delicate, desperate, and sad yet devoted–unceasingly devoted.

The performance of Rodin ended with a full standing ovation of an audience enamored with their brilliant experience and Eifman’s resplendent work. You MUST see this ballet if you have the opportunity!

The next performances are Saturday and Sunday (May 11-12th) through Cal Performances, as well as Friday, May 17 – Sunday, May 19, 2013 at The Auditorium Theater in Chicago Illinois.

Davie L.

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