London Coliseum, London, UK; April 15, 2014

Jessica Wilson

Eifman Ballet in 'Rodin' with Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Oleg Gayshev as Rodin.  Photo © Souheil Michael Khoury

Eifman Ballet in ‘Rodin’ with Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Oleg Gayshev as Rodin.
Photo © Souheil Michael Khoury

On the occasion of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, Boris Eifman returned to the London with his Eifman Ballet, renowned for emotionally-charged and dramatic choreographies in an extreme, almost acrobatic, classical style.

Eifman’s work is usually centred around famous Russian characters from history or literature. Here, he turns to France, and a ballet inspired by and dedicated to the creative work and fate of the great sculptor Auguste Rodin. He lays his company bare, metaphorically and literally in portraying the love triangle of Rodin, danced eloquently by Oleg Gabyshev; his student, lover and muse, Camille Claudel (Lyubov Andreyeva), and his long-suffering and unloved companion, Rose Beuret (Yulia Manjeles). His representation of their lives and relationships makes for immense dance theatre, full of absorbing, poignant images with interludes of comic relief.

Using the language of dance, in its simple terms, Eifman portrays sincerely passion, inner struggle and despair; the phenomena of the human spirit conveyed through the tragedy of Rodin and Camille. To this end “Rodin” is ultimately a reflection of the extreme price that artistry must lay for success, and entwined with that the torment and mystery of the human spirit. Eifman’s creativity encompasses these complex emotive qualities with completeness and in a way that is most satisfying.

Gabyshev and Andreyeva were the stronger partnership, with inspiring and rarely-seen lifts in a world of faster, higher and stronger. They epitomised the anguish of passion and inner struggle, combined with artistic ambition and personal feelings. The haunting score foreshadows the couple’s eventual decline. There was a strong physical bond between the passionate pair, their animated and physical relationship marked by their incredible facility and flexibility. Their human struggles as lovers and labourers were laid bare, before they separated, leading to Camille’s sorrowful downfall.

Gabyshev, haunted by his work and love, was technically strong and secure in his work, and was inspiring to watch in his complete dedication to the character. He is a dancer with a range of strengths; his turns, jump, flexibility and incredible storytelling technique kept the audiences afloat through the rather bitty plot. Andreyeva was a vision as the tormented Camille, a muse with a multitude of layers.

The rest of the cast were equally impressive – all long legs and neat feet, with the male artists displaying fantastic jumps and support in their partnering, while the women were always articulate in their movement.

In an obvious choice, Eifman choreographs the works of art. He manipulates the bodies of his company to become sculptures, just as a sculptor would turn clay. The stunning shapes and carefully choreographed dance that results brings huge benefits to the ballet.

The absence of pointe shoes was a welcome change, emphasising the soft landings of the dancers and allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the performance without being constantly reminded of reality by noisy shoes.

Eifman’s lifts are always both relevant and beautiful; never movement for movement’s sake – so common in the regular classical ballet vocabulary. They spring from nowhere, emerging naturally from the dance and story. The use of parallel feet enables him to move into alternative and innovative movement territory.

Ballet historian Margaret Willis supports Eifman in how he “showed how differently he looked at dance, despite the lack of contact with the outside world and its fast-moving developments.” With no influence from the West, he aimed and succeeded in being different. Despite huge criticism, his work continues to be unique. His aim was to shock his audiences and make them see dance from a different perspective. “Rodin”, like his other works, is extremely theatrical and combines a heady mixture of love and jealousy mixed through reality and fantasy. It is clear his dancers are all classically trained but he and they does not employ “tricks of the ‘elitist’ ballet world” which show only technical abilities rather than infinite emotional quality.