Eisenhower Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
Washington, DC; May 29, 2015
Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg’s Rodin made for an interesting contrast with Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire, seen the previous night. Both ballets have a lead female in a role that involves going insane, but other than that, they could not be more different, particularly in the style of movement and approach to storytelling. While the Scottish Ballet’s Streetcar shows immense nuance and uses subtle gestures, nothing about Rodin is subtle. With Rodin you see dancing that’s all one note, and that note is over-the-top melodrama. And while Streetcar proceeds chronologically, Rodin rather confusingly skips back and forth in time.
The opening sequence of Rodin is intriguing. Women in pale undergarments and bonnets (costumes by Olga Shaismelashvili), with hair like street urchins sticking up every which way, hold hands and tread childishly about wearing glazed expressions. There’s an element of fun in the manner in which these spooky creatures twist their bodies and faces. When Rodin (Oleg Gabyshev) and Camille (Lyubov Andreyeva) appear, the same crazy dynamic energy bursts forth, with movement equally as big and showy as the patients in the insane asylum. This exaggerated style of dance, at first amusing, grows tiresome, however, as the dancers continue to fling their outstretched limbs. Rodin seems almost absurd in its bombastic theatrics, but I assume the ballet is meant to be taken seriously throughout.
Rodin’s artistry and love life makes a fine idea for a ballet, so it’s not the idea that fails here, although it’s ironic that Rodin was drawn to early modern dance of the likes of Isadora Duncan, and not ballet. The problem with Rodin lies with the choreography and the execution. Flexible this troupe is, but these are not Russians who demonstrate precise technique and flawless pirouettes. The dancers are more frantic than graceful and sincere, and the choreography is more silly than inventive or inspiring. Although it’s entertaining to watch rubber band-like dancers spin on a wheel and be kneaded like clay, Rodin’s sculptural manipulations resemble molestation, making the piece sometimes uncomfortably creepy. In addition, emotion in Rodin isn’t ever concealed, it’s always obvious (lots of heads in hands and overblown grimaces) and, exhaustingly, constantly on display.
Is it possible to be too expressive in dance? As I watched Rodin, I came to the conclusion the answer is yes. I was close to laughter sometimes, when laughter wasn’t called for. For example, there’s a gratuitous scene in which there’s a bacchanalian celebration, complete with women stomping grapes. It appears to be a flashback scene to the time when Rodin met his longtime companion and eventual wife, Rose Beuret (Yulia Manjeles), but if I were to guess, I’d say it was added to the ballet simply to have another group number with striking costumes, just as the can-can section seems to have little point, other than to get more dancers on stage in more flamboyant costumes, screaming and falling into audience-pleasing splits. Oh, plus the can-can is very French, like wine is French. That seems to be how the music was selected – based on the French origins of the composers. Ravel, Saint-Saens, and Massenet are used, but these selections don’t often seem to fit the dancing well.
The highlight of the ballet is a duet between Camille and a lover who is not Rodin. It’s a hot, sexy, tango-like sequence that seems wholly different in tone from the rest of the ballet. The pace is slower, the movement more delicate and refined. The emotion it generates is without a doubt more
genuine. Alas, it lasted only a short time.
While not my cup of tea, I was surrounded by ethnic Russians who deeply appreciated the performance. When the curtain fell, there was thunderous applause, a standing ovation, and loud rhythmic clapping that went on and on, as most of the audience went truly wild. Eifman himself took a bow. I have to conclude there may be a cultural element to enjoying Eifman’s work that eludes me. My taste runs more to the understated when it comes to dance, as opposed to Eifman’s amped-up style.