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Rodin and the Genius of Boris Eifman, Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

March 15, 2012

Boris Eifman's Gates of Hell from Rodin Photo by Gene Schiavonne Gates

Boris Eifman should be lauded for the brilliance of the genius that he is. In the 35th anniversary of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, the company returns triumphant to New York City Center with the U.S. premiere of Boris Eifman’s Rodin. The new full-length ballet is based on the life of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) and his turbulent relationship with his mistress and muse, Camille Claudel (1864-1943).

It begins and ends in an insane asylum, where Camille Claudel spent the last 30 years of her life. In reality, it is a tale ripe for telling, the story of the lover tossed aside, her spiral into supposed insanity and Rodin’s seeming confliction with the relationship between them. Mr. Eifman’s Rodin is filled with passion, hatred and tortured love, the stuff that is made for dramatic ballets.

Photos by Michael Khowry

Dramatic ballets, while perhaps not the trend in the present dance scene, perhaps should not be so hastily judged. For it is these tales that are of the greats in ballet, Giselle, La Bayadère, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort. Mr. Eifman embraces this tradition in the same manner as the great masters of dance, Bejart, Roland Petit, Martha Graham and Pina Bausch.

Rodin is filled with imagery and imagination with visual reference to the sculptor’s greatest works. He gives us unique physical representations of The Eternal Idol, The Age of Brass, Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais. He uses the dancers’ bodies as Rodin would clay, stretching, molding and repositioning arms, hands, torsos. The most memorable was Rodin posing Camille for The Crouching Woman, he places here on a turntable then he twists, prods and places her in the perfect rendition of the original bronze, cast in 1882. Eifman’s recreation of the Gates of Hell was another highlight of imagery; dancers are displayed on a vertical scaffold in poises and movements of torment and agony. The Gates of Hell was inspired by Dante’s “The Inferno”.

Boris Eifman's "The Eternal Idol" in Rodin Photo by Gene Schiavonne

Rodin was portrayed by the talented and handsome Oleg Gabyshev. Mr. Gabyshev gave the role depth and allowed us to see the sculptor’s conflict and the despair that drove him while he pursued greatness and notoriety. Lyubov Andreyeva’s portrayal of Camille was of a woman torn who balanced her life upon a knife’s edge, fearful of the instability that was to define Camille Claudel. Yulia Manjeles, as Rose Beuret, Rodin’s lifelong mistress, mother of his son and eventual wife, gave a woman who is devoted to Rodin and puts aside her own needs and turns a blind eye to his faults and affair with Camille.

There is no “tricks” in Mr. Eifman’s choreography. No thirty-two fouettés, pyrotechnics or gravity defying leaps, I am sure the dancers could have achieved them if required. But Mr. Eifman’s choreography is more subtle, relying on the body, its shapes and lyricism to express his voice. He allows the dancers to dance! He created duets in which the dancers’ bodies were crafted in manners that I had never witnessed. He finds original movements and you see the absolute trust and devotion    the dancers have in him.

Music is unique to each section, by using Ravel, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Debussy and Satie, it added color and depth to the story line.

Boris Eifman's Rodin Photos by Michael Khowry

There is darkness to Eifman’s Rodin, but it is a dark story. He tells it unapologetic, stretches the imagination and most importantly makes the audience think.  It is the story of Rodin’s rise to greatness and Camille’s fall into insanity, the two-act ballet gives us a window into the complex relationship between Rodin and his lover/muse. Though Camille tries to break away from the sculptor, she is drawn back and gives herself to Rodin and after the negative public response to her sculpture “Clotho”, it seems recognition is never to be and descend into upon a path of hopelessness.

The curtain falls on Rodin, frantically working on a sculptor of a man kneeling before a woman, one of his greatest works, The Eternal Idol. There is a true sadness to this ballet if you know the story of Camille Claudel; she was confined to an insane asylum by her brother, her family embarrassed by her behavior. Her doctor twice tried to get her released, informing the family that she was not insane, only to have them refuse. She spent the next 30 years confined and upon her death was buried in an unmarked grave.

Boris Eifman has captured the spirit of the tale. I predict it will be seen as one of the great ballets of the 21st century. The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg’s 15th Anniversary Season at New York City Center will be May 23 – June 2, 2013.

Tickets on sale this June, I’ll be there and hope you will be too!

From → Ballet

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