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Eifman Ballet's 'Rodin' not fully Sculpted

by Joanna G. Harris
May 10, 2013
Cal Performances: Zellerbach Auditorium
101 Zellerbach Hall #4800
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Russian Ballet is reported to be the core of the classical tradition which was brought from Italy in the 16th Century to France in the 17th and on to the Czar's Russian Empire in the 19th Century. There it flourished under the great choreographer Marius Petipa and composers Minkus and Tchaikovsky with such works as "The Pharaoh's Daughter" in 1898; "La Esmeralda", "Giselle" and "Le Corsaire" in 1899; and "La Bayadère" in 1900. There followed the Soviet era ("tractor ballets"), the reintroduction of the work of Balanchine, the defection of Nureyev and Baryshnikov and recently the work of contemporary choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, now an American artist. To this day, audiences regard Russian ballet as the hallmark of the art form.

Now, alas, still and again, we are presented with the works of Boris Eifman who has created sensational works since 1977. His "Red Giselle" and "Anna Karenina," have been seen previously in the U.S. His ballets are characterized by exaggerated gesture, sensational staging and melodramatic plots. For "Karenina" it was sometimes effective. Not so with his newest offering "Rodin".

The narrative line centers on the famous sculptor's assistant Camille Claudel, who was also his lover (and it is said, his victim.) Although the Musée Rodin in Paris sometimes exhibits her fine work, it is her descent into madness that is the center of Eifman's bizarre ballet. The haphazard series of events in the ballet are devoted to her madness. They also include Rodin's addiction to sexual adventure and most regrettable the construction and destruction of their art works.

Dancers, dressed in costumes that appeared "nude," are pounded at and shaped, draped with cloth and emerge as depictions of Rodin's sculptures such as "The Burghers of Calais" and "The Kiss" (the latter I feel not correctly depicted). Claudel hammered on her material and destroyed it.

Most all of the pas de deux movement in the ballet consisted of jumping, rolling on the floor, embracing roughly and simulating sex. When a solo emerged, it was clear that these were brilliant dancers: Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Nina Zmievets as Rose Beuret. They were each capable of dramatic action and standard ballet technique. Eifman forced that vocabulary into rough and tumble activities, which obliterated their skill. Equally irritating was that no less than seven famous French composers, recorded, were needed to 'milk' the sentiments that Eifman wrenched from his cast.

His depiction of the mad house where Claudel must face her fellow inmates was especially offensive. There, the patients were shown as 'cutey-pie' girls, dressed in short nighties and knee socks, as if they were sisters in a sorority house. The portrayal of such women as mad and that this is their insane behavior was ludicrous. To further go overboard, Eifman added a Grape Festival dance, a chorus from the Folies Bergere and other secondary work for the corps. So much happened so quickly and without development. The audience however responded with enthusiasm. We can only suppose that American musicals, TV and rock concerts have made it possible to sustain such heightened response.

Rodin was a great sculptor. He sketched Isadora Duncan, Vaslov Nijinsky and dancers from India. These might have made for a more thoughtful presentation. His legacy, work and his life deserved a more valuable ballet.

Photo © & courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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