May 23, 2012. Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.
The magic of Medusa went one way, turning humans to stone. The magic of Eifman flows two ways: turning dancers to stone and making those stones dance.
Spooky music of a “Night Prelude” by Ravel introduces Rodin’s tragic partner Camille Claudel, linked to a daisy-chain of bedlamite beauties, but circling the hell of remembering her ill-fated pas-de-deux with Rodin whose muse and co-creator she was.
The music changes to a Saint-Saens Concerto and Claudel is transported back further in time, to the frantic activity of Rodin’s workshop where she first set him on fire and he first moulded her to into his vision. Their story unfolds as a metamorphic tangle of bodies flowing like clouds through brilliant variations of set, scene, lighting and mood that Rodin, Rose his wife, and Claudel go through, until Claudel is back in bedlam and Rodin is set forever in his fame as sculptor of “The Thinker”.
The St. Petersburg dancers are young and Olympian in their beauty, trained by Boris Eifman to be easy with extremes of hyperextension and elongated physique. They tie themselves and each other in and out of knots fluid as serpents in a nest, rest immobile as statuary in a tableau, or twist themselves and each other into living vines to ornament a screen. They submit to the heat of Eifman’s imagination; as models they are twisted like clay or metal into sculptural forms such as Rodin’s “The Kiss,” and the “Burghers of Calais, or are wheeled onto the stage as statuary from which they work themselves free and regain flesh and blood humanity.
The metamophosis of bodily forms at every level of this work is awesome, and more often than not, fun. The Russian folk dance tradition of mocking caricature is vivid in Eifman’s repetoire of moves. The basic morbidity of the story and its emotions pitched to melodrama is intemittently lightened by humour and high-spirits including a lugubrious tango and a wild Can-Can.
There is nothing Eifman’s dancers cannot do with their bodies, yet somehow I felt they were kept too tightly wrapped inside his imagination, and I missed the the pleasure of natural emotion and the freedom of movement I feel in American dance such as Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, or in works on a smaller scale by Peggy Baker. On the other hand, I felt a positive affinity between the dancing of Eifman’s St. Petersburg chorus and the iconic choreography Michael Kidd did on Broadway in the 1950’s with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The sets, lighting, costumes as well as the choreography make Eifman’s Rodin an over-the-top spectacular show that deserves to be wildly popular. It plays in Toronto May 23-25.