Choreographer: Russell Maliphant
Music: Alexander Zekke
Reviewer: Laura Maley
An Auguste Rodin-inspired dance show from award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant and Sadler’s Wells offers glimpses of sculptural beauty, and some astonishing skill at The Lowry, but perhaps too much reliance on statue stillness.
The first act of The Rodin Project has obvious allusions to classical art: four columns of white material hang from ceiling to stage, with a large fabric mound behind it. Three women wear brief draped dresses and wind themselves in the material lengths, the three men wear loincloths. With each deliberate movement the audience studies muscles and unfolding limbs; dancers become living sculptures. Olympian, their repetitive, rhythmic and mirrored movements increase the feeling of an athlete training. When Tommy Franzen and Jennifer White dance together it adds a new power to the slow first act – and offers a reminder of Rodin’s two lovers wrapped in The Kiss. A battle-style section between street dance specialist Franzen and Thomasin Gülgeç, where sharp leg movements and controlled transfers from high to low, also stands out. When Alexander Zekke’s specially-commissioned staccato strings stop afterwards the audience is acutely aware of the silence, then the breathing of the two men.
This level of energy continues into the second act. Maliphant makes great use of Es Devlin and Bronia Housman’s second set – a black landscape of steep angular shapes; walls and ramps, like a skate park under a motorway flyover. In both acts, Michael Hulls’ lighting is brilliant but here the use of spotlight colours like orange and purple is incredibly powerful – memorably highlighting only the hands of each performer.
Maliphant uses Rodin’s sculptures as a starting point for choreography, encompassing capoeira, popping, locking, and parkour with his more trademark flowing contemporary, balletic dance. However, there is too much posing and the audience could easily come away feeling as though The Rodin Project is a series of scenes, with little linking narrative.
The Rodin Project is obviously built around the skills of the male dancers who all have incredible energy and strength. Gülgeç’s sharp accents and deftness are clinically articulated and Dickson Mbi is key to the two most impressive pieces in the show. His locking, popping solo in act two is astonishing, appearing to effortlessly change pace and even style mid-movement. Then Franzén and Mbi duet on a wall where they seem to defy gravity, with light fluidity they hang by their feet, a single hand, supporting each other, duelling with one another; leaping and balancing, working together. There is a collective release of held-in breath from the audience when both these two passages are completed.
Maliphant’s men have far greater opportunities to shine, perhaps because Rodin’s work also concentrated on the male form. The women here are often backing dancers: what they do is very good, but they don’t have chance to shine. One of the women dances a nude section, which emphasises the female rôle of model, it grates against the energy of the second act where conversely the women have more involvement generally. A section where all six performers form a trail exploring the heights and slopes of the stage is clever and equalising. It’s another short but brilliant glimpse of the beauty which appears throughout The Rodin Project, but inconsistently.