Rodin – Eifman Ballet: London Coliseum, 17 April 2014

Set in Stone

Unloved wife Rose Beuret tables an emotion in Eifman Ballet's Rodin. Photo by Lawrence K. Ho

Unloved Rose Beuret tables an emotion in Eifman Ballet’s Rodin. Photo by Lawrence K. Ho

With all of Eifman Ballet’s beautifully sculpted bodies on display, Rodin’s desperate love triangle with his wife and mistress makes a visually perfect subject for a ballet.

Boris Eifman’s choreography is tough and uncompromising. Occasional flits of classical decorate the piece but it’s mostly a hard-edged contemporary aesthetic that leads. Eifman doesn’t rely much on acting or changes of choreographic tempo to draw out emotion but instead expects sheer physicality to express the complexity of the characters. For the first half this didn’t work too well as the main characters seemed all in a lather about things we knew little about. The second half was much better, especially as events built to their frenetic climax.

To perform it the company’s dancers have to be virtual contortionists, ready to thrust their angled bodies into countless idiosyncratic positions. Not only that but they need to be lightning quick and also require limbs that shoot out endlessly into the stage’s cosmos. Fortunately the dancers are outstanding.

Lyubov Andreyeva was fantastic as Camille. A powerful performer, she was forever her own woman and made the ballet her story. With an awful lot of stage time and plenty of demanding duets and solos she remained physically strong to the end and she possesses a pair of legs that can erupt into whatever shape required.

Oleg Gabyshev’s Rodin was a paler figure beside her, the forceful choreography didn’t suit the persistently indecisive character he was playing. It was a similar pattern for his passive wife Rose, played by Yulia Manjeles, but fault could not be found with either dancer.

The corps often had rather pointless, or bizarrely camp, roles but what they did they did with supreme energy, commitment and talent. There was a brilliantly insane can-can with bright frills and million-mile-an-hour leg kicking; the long line of dancers all leaping into the air to land doing the splits was great fun. There was also a completely out of place, but beautifully danced, modern section where they accompanied Rodin and his mistress in ballgowns that swept the floor in a manner suggestive of Jiří Kylián at his most lyrical.

Despite the enviable list of 19th century French composers such as Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Massenet, the music lacked coherence and created episodic blips in the storytelling. By contrast Zinovy Margolin’s staging was distinctly modern, with striking diagonal designs and clever use of silhouettes and Gleb Filshtinsky’s lighting. The realisation of Camille going mad was superb, ranging from demonic torch waving to a huge black silk that smothered her into the psychological black hole she’d driven herself into.

Some parts of Rodin worked incredibly well while others didn’t but it was compelling to watch with never a dull moment to be had.

Gerard Davis

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