Eifman’s Perspective on Rodin at Zellerbach Hall, May 12

22 May

Without question, Boris Eifman’s company elicits great praise for its dancing and similar controversy about its choreography.  Nothing, however, keeps the transplanted Russian speaking public from attending his ballets in droves; they were out in force for the May 12 matinee when I went to see Eifman’s interpretation of Auguste Rodin’s tumultuous love affair with Camille Claudel.

What one can expect from an Eifman ballet are slender dancers with jaw-dropping flexibility, striking sets, many with metal structures which get incorporated into the action because the dancers climb, crawl or drape themselves along one of another of the bars while the taped music blares one of several climatic moments.

For the matinee the cast included Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin,  Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Nina Zmievets as Rose Beuret, Rodin’s long-suffering companion, and mother of his son, whom Rodin married at the end of his life.  Not only are the soloists less than mid-thirties in age, but the matinee’s three principals were trained outside the main stream of Russian classical academies.  Gabyshev hails from Novosibirsk, Andreyeva from Minsk, Belarus and Zmievets from Kiev, Ukraine.  Two others featured on Saturday graduated from the Vaganova Academy, two hailed from Perm.

Eifman very cleverly utilized a series of French composers for his dramatic exposition, most  pieces with which American audiences likely were familiar: Maurice Ravel; Camille Saint-Saens; Jules Massenet; Claude Debussy; Erik Satie, cutting and pasting where score and dramatic action seemed to jibe.

Eifman seems to be at his best at moments crystalizing action, the last visual image before a blackout. Also effective with repetitive movements, he shows Rose’s providing Rodin with his food – the economic serving gesture, the slump of Rodin, his quick dispensing of the meal, mind distracted.  Zmievets’ use of her torso snaking forward, profile to the audience, her sharp nose, dark hair and supple reach of her body from neck through to her hips was a sculpture in itself.

Several instances occur when the metal structures frame images indelibly associated with Rodin, most notably when the corps members assume the famous, if never realized Gates of  Hell. (The crowning three figures of which were inspiration for Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini.)Also, the movement of bodies which assumed the positions of The Burghers of Calais, a copy known to many visitors to San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor.  Yet another device was Rodin moving dancers’ limbs before throwing a canvas over the figures displaying yet another famous statue such as The Lovers.

One expects Eifman to depict the triangle in extreme fashion and he doesn’t disappoint.  I found my stomach churning even when observing and feeling skeptical about the feverish extremes of Claudel.  In that category I would place Eifman’s assignments for the inmates of the mental institution.  Granted time and culture divergence, having worked in an inpatient psychiatric setting, the costuming and circle arrangement for the women inmates rang false, if perhaps quite necessary for Eifman’s concept of the tangled love and sculptural collaboration. He depicts only Camille’s destruction of her work, nothing of what remained, and, of  course, her subordination to Rodin’s endeavors.  Eifman may have felt it would soften the stark contrasts which are such a hall mark of his choreography.  In his choices, Eifman eliminated Rodin’s contacts with the dancing greats of the day: Isadora Duncan; Anna Pavlova; Vaslav Nijinsky.

Obviously, I have not reprised the story line, but for those interested Wikipedia provides outlines of both artists.  It also might be noted that little, if anything, was made of Camille’s brother, Paul, the French diplomat and poet, who was responsible for placing his sister into an asylum, or of the asylum staff who made repeated efforts to see her released, actions unsupported by her family. That is the final part of the horror story.

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