Reviewer: Harry Stern
A flying four-day visit by Eifman Ballet provides an evening of superlative theatrical aesthetic detracted from by a number of incomprehensibly naff creative decisions that wrench the work down from its own pedestal. The problem comes when Eifman cannot distinguish the line between theatricality and melodrama.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment of the complex and nuanced relationship between Rodin and his pupil, Muse and lover Camille Claudel. In Eifman’s hands it loses all layering and any subtlety and becomes a story of grand sweeping passion, huge angst and an almost Classical descent into tragedy.
The other great disappointment on entering the magnificence of Frank Matcham’s peerless auditorium is the realization that there is to be no orchestra. We are to have the works of Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Massenet in recorded form only. Economics dictate that this must be so but the disappointment is no less acute for being so. The experience of a live band simply cannot be replicated however good the quality of the recorded sound.
Yet there is much to relish in the work. The choreography is pleasingly contemporary and Eifman gives much joy in recreating the artist’s sculptures out of real life flesh and blood. Part of the fun is trying to spot and name the finished articles. Being no Rodin expert many of them passed me by but I did spot The Thinker, The Kiss, Hands and a number of other immediately familiar of his works.
The music is also very familiar and those waiting for snatches of the Organ Symphony or the Danse Macabre will not be disappointed.
The design aesthetic at times simply takes the breath away. On a very empty stage environments and contexts are conjured in the main by lighting. And rather like the work itself, the lighting is a real curate’s egg with some magical moments being counterpointed by some inexplicable decisions to descend into the idiom of musical theatre shows and rock concerts. But the moments of magic are worth waiting for. An impeccably drilled chorus appears out of the dark with flashing lights as Claudel’s insanity develops and she becomes enveloped in a literal blackness. A huge black silk sheet entraps her and, manipulated by other dancers, she is physically borne away from a rational life. It is a moment of beauty immediately undercut by the final image of the piece which sees Rodin melodramatically hammering away at yet another piece of human sculpture.
The dancing itself is beautiful. The three principals Dmitry Fisher as Rodin himself, Angela Prokhorova as his much put upon yet loyal companion Rose Beuret and the diminutive Algerim Beketayeva command the stage and the attention. The corps de ballet appearing variously as critics, lunatics, wine makers, can-can dancers and the all-important sculptures themselves are awe-inspiring to one uninitiated in the world of dance.
Ultimately, if one can suspend the cynicism of an assumed sophistication that rejects the melodramatic, this is a marvellously accessible and beautiful piece of work. That suspension is, however, quite hard to achieve.
Photo: Souheil Michael Khoury
Booking until 19th April