United Kingdom Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet (recorded), Rodin: Saint Petersburg Eifman Ballet, London Coliseum, London, 15.4.2014 (J.O’D)
Camille: Lyubov Andreyeva
Rose Beuret: Yulia Manjeles
Aigerim Beketyaya, Dmitry Fisher, Denis Klimuk, Yulia Manjeles, Oleg Markov, Natalia Povoroznyuk, Angela Prokhorova, Sergey Volubuev
Choreography: Boris Eifman
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky, Boris Eifman
The original name for the St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet (established in 1977 by ‘choreographer philosopher’, Boris Eifman) was the Leningrad New Ballet. This would explain the particular style of movement used over thirty years later in the company’s Rodin (2011). While being movement that only a classically-trained ballet dancer could perform, it is not exactly ‘ballet’. On the other hand, it is not exactly modern or contemporary dance, either. There are no pointe shoes, but neither do the dancers convey any sense of weight or gravity – though they do, when it comes to representing sculptor Auguste Rodin’s clay models, convey a very real sense of mouldable ‘mass’. The movement is acrobatic, without ever quite becoming acrobatics. The dancers bend and twist their bodies into positions that are sometimes ugly, but they do this with the knowledge and control of torso and limbs (and the relationship between them) that ballet training gives, a knowledge and control that can become metaphor.
At first, I found myself resisting this unclassifiable, possibly crowd-pleasing choreography, and the recorded soundtrack of music by Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Massenet (sometimes snippets of this) to which it is performed. Over the course of its two acts I was drawn into the ballet by the power of the staging, by the three dancers in the central roles of Rodin, his lover Camille Claudel, and Rose Beuret (the woman with whom Rodin had a twenty-year-long relationship), and by the almost larger-than-life stage presence of the dancers of the company.
Camille Claudel, Rodin’s muse, was herself a sculptor. She began to work in Rodin’s workshop in the 1880s, and died in an asylum in France in 1943. It is in an asylum that the ballet begins, its inmates holding hands as they move in a circle that becomes a spiral out of which the figure of the staring Claudel (Lyubov Andreyeva) emerges. Flashbacks then follow which show both Claudel and the much older Rodin at work. The relationship between the lovers is a question of constant pushing and pulling, of rolling towards and away from each other. Rodin (Oleg Gabyshev) is shown to be less passionate in his relationship with Rose Beuret (Yulia Manjeles). Grey-haired, hollow-eyed, she moves around him, almost ignored, rather than with him. If the sculptor rolls to and from Claudel, he rolls over Beuret. Yet she, too, as a flashback in the second act shows, was once a young girl who caught Rodin’s eye during the vendange. (The ballet always suggests that when attracted to a woman, Rodin was equally attracted to the sculptures he could make from her.)
In a scene during which the two rivals confront each other like harpies with forward-jutting chins and backward-thrusting arms as they compete for Rodin himself, Beuret (the provider of food and shelter) is shown to win. When the critics reject her sculpture (a disturbingly overworked example of which another dancer embodies), Claudel destroys it. She then moves through alcohol and men to the attacks of paranoia on account of which her family had her committed. This paranoia is given vivid theatrical expression. Faces become indistinguishable behind flashing lights. A billowing sheet of purple-black material engulfs Claudel; out of it crawl the fellow inmates of the asylum in which, it appears, her family decided to keep her. It stays in the mind, the way the final dancer in the chain of inmates holds out one hand to Claudel as she follows the others into the wings; the way Claudel first of all resists, then joins them.