Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg: Rodin
Author: Joel Benjamin
Date: March 11, 2012
Overheard as I was leaving City Center after Boris Eifman’s Rodin, two middle-aged ladies discussing what they had just seen. “Pretty dancing,” said the first. “Good costumes,” said the second. “But not very subtle,” concluded the first. That pretty much sums up this ballet, which explores the relationship between the famous sculptor Rodin, his wife Rose and his muse and lover Camille.
No one could ever call the Eifman Ballet subtle or nuanced. Prolific, maybe. Clever, sometimes. Over-heated, always. There’s nothing wrong with any of this. Boris Eifman is the master of classy entertainment with the comfortable patina of classical ballet. He is aided by a troupe of lithe, handsome and well-trained ballet dancers who have no trouble emoting and writhing to give life to his over-ripe romantic plots.
Rodin, performed on Zinoviy Margolin’s imaginative Constructivist set, begins with Camille Claudel (Lyubov Andreyeva) in the insane asylum where she was confined after her mind deteriorated due to losing Rodin (Oleg Gabyshev). Here, as elsewhere in the ballet, Olga Shaismelashvili’s costumes defined character, place and period (the late 19th and early 20th Centuries). She walks in circles with sad and distorted patients until a visit from Rodin brings on a series of choreographed reminiscences. At Rodin’s studio, Camille stands out as a young model, amongst a bevy of beauties, pushed and pulled by Rodin’s eager assistants. She quickly becomes his lover and inspiration. Rose (Yulia Manjeles) is Rodin’s long-suffering wife.
A scene from Rodin performed by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
(Photo credit: Nikolay Krusser)
In several passionate and acrobatic pas de deux, Eifman lets us see Rodin’s anguish at being caught between his passion for Camille and his affection for Rose. We also get to see how Rodin met Rose at a wine festival which was one of two excellently constructed scenes. The wine bacchanal was staged as a folk festival in bright costumes and was a relief from the drearier emotional scenes. The other terrific scene was the construction of Rodin’s monumental Gates of Hell grouping, using dancers on an artful scaffolding manipulated dramatically until they became an uncanny reproduction of the original.
Handsome and commanding, the bearded Oleg Gabyshev’s Rodin was a perfect foil for Eifman’s athletic twists and turns. His acting registered throughout the theater. As Camille, Lyubov Andreyeva was a delicate, perfectly formed flower with a spine of steel. Watching her sculpting a faux piece of marble, she made it clear that she was portraying a passionate artist. Yulia Manjeles had the hardest task as her character was long-suffering and self-effacing. With her sensual, open face expressing everything she was going through on top of a fine, flexible body, she certainly held her own against the other two.
Eifman skillfully used selections from Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy and Satie to accompany the action. His choreography is full of big jumps that land in unexpected ways and movements that feature extreme upper body torque against classical ballet legs. He knows how to fill a stage with action.
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is refreshing in its over-the-top theatrical flourishes. While most dance troupes nowadays veer toward self-examination and concept, Boris Eifman is an unapologetic romantic.