Alexandrinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia; August 5, 2014

Catherine Pawlick

Alina Bakalova and Anton Labunskass in 'Rodin'.  Photo © Anatoly Budnik

Alina Bakalova and Anton Labunskass in ‘Rodin’.
Photo © Anatoly Budnik

Boris Eifman’s 2011 production of “Rodin” is not new, but in its present form, at the opening of the troupe’s 2014-2015 season in Saint Petersburg, it offered a fresh, energetic, and passionate interpretation of two of sculpture’s greatest figures, Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. Their relationship was advertised most widely in the stunning 1988 film “Camille Claudel”, featuring Isabelle Adjani in one of the most heart-wrenching renditions of a historical couple onscreen.

Eifman’s stage version is not dissimilar. Their twisted relationship, the frustrating unfairness experienced by Claudel, and her passionate-violent relationship with Rodin is easily depicted in movement, through the lean, perfectly proportioned ballet bodies of this troupe – bodies that are, perhaps not ironically, every sculptor’s ideal.

After the opening asylum scene in which Camille, here danced by Alina Bakalova, is already caught in the cloud of insanity, we shift to the story’s beginning: two women in bonnets and velvet coats enter the large sculpting studio, disrobe and are placed on a rotating table, manipulated into various poses by Rodin. Camille then enters, rips off her overalls, and starts to mold clay with her hands, wrenching it with force into her final vision.

Later, Rodin, danced by the tireless Dmitry Fischer, does the same, turning a mound of five male bodies into a work of art “The Burghers of Calais”, with Camille’s help. Fischer’s movement shifts from entangled pas de deux with Bakalova to sudden, high flying jumps. We see in his movement the extremes of an artist’s mood, and in their duet a warlike combat that alternates between love and hate.

As with all of Eifman’s dancers, Bakalova is a tall, with beautiful arches and lovely lines. “Rodin” requires that the dancers strip down or be stripped to a semblance of flesh-only throughout both acts -flesh colored leotards are used for propriety’s sake. For Bakalova it’s not a problem, as her limbs perfectly depict the flesh and bone of our heroine, the image sought by Rodin, and the lines carved by various steps. A perfect master of Eifman’s lexicon, she also manages the dramatic expression of the heroine with a remarkable level of depth. She depicted Claudel with maturity and insight, attesting to her own acting talent.

In Act II, when Claudel visits a Parisian nightclub, there is a relief interlude in which the frilly petticoats of can-can dancers fill the stage and then fall to the floor in the splits. This is followed by a dark tango, where a mystery man, danced masterfully with hints of sultry sexuality by Anton Labunskass, appears in a top hat, and slowly glides Camille about the floor with palpable intensity. Their tango is interrupted by the arrival of Rodin, and Camille immediately forgets about her Mediterranean dance partner.

Alina Bakalova and Anton Labunskass in 'Rodin'.  Photo © Anatoly Budnik

Alina Bakalova and Anton Labunskass in ‘Rodin’.
Photo © Anatoly Budnik

While some may say nuance is lacking in this rendition of the story of these two great sculptors, it is ever-present if one knows where to look. The movement of the three main characters is differentiated according to their role: Rodin’s wife Rose, danced by Natalia Povorozhniuk, appears only in the near-total absence of lighting, in dark toned dresses buttoned up to her chin, waiting for Rodin at the dinner table. Her movement is grounded and somber, in comparison to the flying pas de deux between Rodin and Camille. And in terms of art, near the end, we see Rodin’s famous “Gates of Hell” recreated on an upstage trellis with live bodies twisted into various poses of agony, their mouths open in silent screams – a genius, poignant moment that clearly depicts Camille’s participation in creating the work. Further, the Oz-like gold-buttoned, green-suited, eyeglass-wearing chatterbox critics, who appear twice in clusters around the sculptures at the Salon, scribble furiously on uniform red pads – both times lauding Rodin who arrives in a cane and top hat, leaving the dusty Camille behind. The injustice of her life is revealed in these moments: her work, her art, her genius, are overlooked, and the credit is given to a man.

Eifman’s “Rodin” is a dramatic masterpiece that faithfully touches on themes of torment, despair and passion. It is a must-see for those wishing a two hour journey into the world of art, sculpture, and inspiration.