Boris Eifman, a choreographer known for his vision to use ballet to communicate the internal dynamics of the psyche, has created “Rodin”, a tribute to the genius of the late French sculptor and also a vehicle to “talk” as only ballet can “talk” about the turmoil that drives artistic genius.
The ballet opens in a madhouse, where we meet Camille Claudel (Lyubov Andreyeva), the one-time muse and lover of Auguste Rodin (Oleg Gabyshev) sadly lost in the mob of madwomen danced so expertly by the corps de ballet whose face gestures and slightly ajar poses convey the atmosphere of insanity.
Rodin visits this madhouse and from there the ballet is a flashback to convey the multifaceted dimensions of his relationship to Camille Claudel, and later also the love triangle with his wife Rose Beuret (Nina Zmievets).
The ballet tells the story of the young model Claudel intriguing the older Rodin and the beginnings of their intimacy. They are at times united as Rodin’s famous lovers in “The Kiss” are. Physical intimacies are mixed in with collaboration and parallel work on sculptures. While the critics are enthralled by all that Rodin does, Camille suffers their rejections.
The love affair between Rodin and Claudel is infected by jealousies, creating walls between them. At times we see a tortured Rodin quickly move beyond the pose of “The Thinker” as he pirouettes his internal state before us. And we see Camille folded upon herself, in the studio and later in the asylum, reminiscent of Rodin’s sculptured poses.
In today’s world a wise girlfriend would take Camille aside and say “that man is no good for you.” Now as then such admonitions would fall on deaf ears. We see Camille driven to remain the muse of Rodin, despite the feelings of self-destruction the artistic rivalries between them awaken in her.
The iconic Rodin sculpture of the two hands poised to clasp becomes a symbol of the relationship’s deterioration. Camille rushes to hold on to it but leaves it in despair. Almost conveniently, the jealous wife’s presence appears and re-appears, seeming to conveniently usher the end of Rodin and Claudel’s love.
However, neither the artistic connection nor the intertwining of their sould can ever really end for either Rodin or Claudel. Both are tortured by their love as they are by their drive to create art. Eifman wants us to feel this tragic tension and we do.
We also feel the time and place through the music selected by Eifman for this piece. Works from five French composers –Ravel, Massenet, Debussy, Satie, Saint-Saëns—help animate the piece with transitions from one to another seamless throughout.
Eifman’s genius is to use the dancers’ bodies like pieces of clay, letting the muscled Rodin and Claudel tug and form it into grand sculpture.
The mountain of half-sculpted bodies is so real we expect clay dust to fly in our face.
Mostly what we “get” from Eifman’s ballet is that neither Camille’s madness nor Rodin’s art were the stuff of choice. Their art is driven. Their love was driven. The internal engines of their psyches both created their love and its ruin, with a byproduct being a vast body of sculptural genius that we now instantly recognize as the Rodin signature.
As someone raised on early Balanchine, I see Eifman following Balanchine’s lead to push the envelope of ballet movement in new directions. All of the ballet is done without point shoes. The corps de ballet, like the lead performers, is flawless and able to take subtle gestures to convey madness or carping art critics, as the scene requires.
Let’s hope that the Eifman Ballet continues to put Chicago on its touring cycle. Keep your eyes out for their next performance. They never have disappointed.
Photo of Boris Eifman: Nina Alovert
All other photos: Nikolay Krusser