Eifman Ballet’s touring production of “Rodin” drives with high emotion as themes of inspiration, passion and jealousy drip with excess. Part love triangle, the ballet, which hit Northrop Auditorium on Tuesday as part of the company’s U.S. tour, doubles as a psychological portrait, witnessing artist Camille Claudel’s descent into madness.
Never mind that some of Claudel’s friends and supporters contested whether she was mad at all. Even the hospital staff insisted to her family in letters that she needn’t be institutionalized. There is little room for such gray area in this production, which provides an elaborate illustration of Claudel’s illness, helped along with sound and lighting effects and a giant billowing cloth that engulfs her in her delirium.
Set in an insane asylum inhabited by Claudel (played by Lyubov Andreyeva in Tuesday’s performance — the principals changed for Wednesday), the story unfolds as a series of flashbacks. The tormented Auguste Rodin (played by the high-jumping Oleg Gabyshev on Tuesday) sees his former muse in a psychotic state but remembers longingly their fiery romance from days past.
The sculptures of the two artists are portrayed by props but also the dancers of the company. In one of the show’s highlights, the ensemble of dancers assemble on an angular scaffolding, becoming the figures of Rodin’s iconic “The Gates of Hell.” Full of expression, the dancers eerily give life to the sculptures.
Choreographer Boris Eifman also plays with the artist-model relationship. In one scene, Rodin aggressively shoves and molds a character who is at once his model but also the material he’s using to create a work of art. Later with Claudel as his model, his sculpting is less attack and more seduction, but there’s still a rather disturbing sense of the artist manipulating not just the art but Claudel herself.
Yulia Manjeles portrayed Rodin’s lifetime companion Rose Beuret on Tuesday’s performance in the show’s most understated performance. While she can’t compare to Claudel’s ability to inspire Rodin, Rose feeds him soup, holds an umbrella over him in the rain and wraps her legs and arms around him in a Pietà pose, always drawing him back into their more stable relationship.
The most tedious moments happen at the insane asylum itself. With the dancers slapping themselves and fidgeting in frenzied movements, the scenes turn toward caricature. Claudel’s mad scenes, meanwhile, relish in scenery-chewing abandon.
There were lots of Russian voices in the audience on Tuesday evening. Based in St. Petersburg, company founder Eifman’s career spans decades so it was no surprise that the production got the local Russian community out.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer.