A dance study in Genius

Балет Эйфмана "Роден" в Лондоне

by Mascha from Russia

After much anticipation, Eifman Ballet has finally arrived to the buzzing Londinium, and settled into the opulent English National Opera’s Coliseum in the West End. This time the company brought with them the UK premiere of “Rodin” loosely based on the life and work of the eponymous sculptor,  as well as the much loved “Anna Karenina” ( but with the “eifmanian” twist) . Mascha from Russia went to see “Rodin” on Tuesday evening amid the other glittering and glowing with excitement crowds, both Russian speaking (surprisingly, not actually a majority) and not. The fact that the audience was well  mixed speaks heaps to the ease with which Eifman’s renowned choreography , technique and exceptional dance aesthetic warmed up to the international dance connoisseurs.

“Rodin” is only loosely a biopic, despite very clear references to real-life figures of Mr.Rodin himself, his life-long loving yet at times fully neglected partner Rose Beuret, and invariably his student/muse/ passionate lover –turned mad woman Camille Claudel. “Rodin” is a “psychological” ballet (as the choreographer refers to it himself) about the painful creative process, the tragic (human) nature of ingenuity and, at least for me, it is about emotions. It is a dramatic performance in a language of dance, it compels to move you. In this it succeeds.

Rodin, a prolific workaholic and perfectionist, was fascinated with the ability to capture the actual characters and emotions, rather than monumental expression of an idea as an abstract. In this regard his sculptures tried to imitate movement whether active (the St John the Baptist Preaching , The Walking Man)  or in the mere fact of the fluidity of the human body (The Thinker, The Kiss). It is this tactility of approach (for which Rodin suffered unjust accusations of using real model casts rather than sculpting) which Eifman very efficiently and beautifully represents in the production.

His dancers are very tactile with each other, there are a lot of duets and connected movements. The choreography explores the feeling of knowing something through touch, the ability of reconstruction of beauty of the human body through continuous movement. Eifman’s Rodin inspects every single joint, every centimeter of the models who he is about to sculpt like a surgeon, with precision, concentration and ctitique. When speaking about this idea with my architect boyfriend, he mentioned that a lot of painters have the same approach. They try to almost trace the object they touched onto the paper, and in this way they can visualise the 3-d perception of the shape and of the aesthetic.

I really want to dedicate a special section to the idea of the torture of the creative process, which for me was one of the key messages of the ballet. There is a very powerful scene where Rodin on stage actually sculpts his famous “The Burghers of Calais” out of human plasticine. Quite literally what the audience sees is an undeterminable at first number of human bodies, bundled into tight ball. Then Rodin quite violently ( and it is clearly a highly physical process) breaks away pieces of this human material and constructs figures. The shapes unravel with every twist and turn of the creator’s arms. There is a feeling that this process is not natural, that it is painful for everyone involved, but what you have at the end is the stunning monument to perfect proportions, movement and gracefulness. It is a work of a genius that was born out of suffering and pain. Eifman puts the audience in an interesting conundrum – he brings the sculptures back to life, in a sense, reversing the flow.

Eifman repeatedly uses the technique of reconstructing the famous sculptures of Rodin on stage. There are several depictions of the famous “Gates of Hell” (a portal for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts, which was never built), where the dancers crawl or jump onto the clever set design rectangle and form a human pit of suffering. It is one of the most visually stunning tableu vivants of the whole ballet.

The other visually powerful dance sequence is the depiction of the madness of Camille Claudel. What you see is disjointed, mixed up and contorted jibes of the dancer, which do not actually allow her to move properly, to break away. The dancer realises this and is struggling and actually physically fighting with herself. And while at the beginning there is still a sense of the mind that is absolutely terrified by the darkness that surrounds her ( which she can still understand), that by the end she is overpowered and invariably gives in. What follows afterwards is the relative calm of the person without awareness of self, the dancer is surrounded by the corps de ballet, who are dressed as kookily eeary, what looks like,  half made up porcelain dolls or perhaps unfinished sculptures. This is the point of no return. This is madness. Interesting to contract the genius of the finished sculpture with the depiction of madness as something unfinished, undone, untidy.

The set design by Zinovy Margolin is minimalistic and impressive. As mentioned above I was completely blown away by the madness scene, with the black fabric. The music, which unfortunately was not live orchestra, was stunning with the works by Ravel, Saint-Saens and Massenet [ I really want to explore the leitmotif to Rose Beuret’s theme...stunning]

The ballet finishes, maybe as it should, with Rodin working away in his studio creating another masterpiece.


Mascha from Russia

 Eifman Ballet is in London until Friday 19th April. There is another showing of Rodin tonight and 2 performances of Anna Karenina on 19th April ( am going in the evening).

Check this link for details: