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Russia's Eifman Ballet Dances Agonies and Ecstasies of "Rodin"

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The Eifman Ballt of St. Petersburg, Russia in "RODIN"
When: Through May 19
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
Info:(800) 982-2787; www.auditoriumtheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

Is Russian choreographer Boris Eifman the Baz Lurhmann of classical ballet?

Highly theatrical, emotionally explosive and visually arresting, his full-length works unquestionably have a grand cinematic sweep and irresistible dynamism that suggest the style of that Australian-bred filmmaker. And, as Eifman stunningly demonstrates in his latest epic, "Rodin" -- his vision of the French sculptor, and his tortured relationships with his wife, his mistress and his art -- he is a master of using his magnificent, astonishingly pliable dancers to tell stories (admittedly, sometimes on the brink of psychodrama) that use a movement language all his own.

The Eifman Ballet's production of "Rodin" (at the Auditorium Theatre through Sunday only), is a stunner. Subtle it is not. But it is, at every turn, audacious, inventive and stunningly beautiful, and full of ingenious homages to the history of dance, as well as to the life and loves of Rodin (1840-1917).

The ballet begins in a madhouse, a locale that often comes into play in Eifman's works about tormented artists and others. A large group of women in white pantaloons forms a circle reminiscent of that in Matisse's painting, "The Dance," or the sacrificial moment in "The Rite of Spring."

As we discover, the "sacrificial maiden" here is Camille Claudel (Lyubov Andreyeva, a dark beauty of tremendous athleticism and dramatic heat). She is the young sculptor who becomes the lover and muse of Rodin (tall, lean Oleg Gabyshev, who deftly suggests the wholly self-involved artist). Claudel, whose own exceptional talent is ignored by Rodin and berated by others, will spend the last several decades of her life in an asylum, so this story clearly unspools in reverse.

Camille is not the only woman in Rodin's life. His adoring, long-suffering wife, Rose Beuret (the gaunt, skeletal Nina Zmievets, a riveting actress in face and body), nurtures him, waits for him, and is torn apart by his infidelity with Camille. Throughout, Rose tellingly hovers over the dining table while it is Camille who climbs up on the platform that supports Rodin's sculptures.

Earlier on in the story there are other women, including the street girl who willingly undresses to model for Rodin, only to find herself twisted (hilariously) into the most contorted positions.

There are sequences in this ballet that instantly imprint themselves in memory: The shapeless mass of nearly nude bodies that gradually are prodded into defined shapes as an arm, a foot, a head, and finally full igures emerge; the famous sculpture of "The Kiss" that takes form literally and figuratively as Rodin and Camille embrace; the monumental tableaus of the artist's studio, with silhouetted laborers positioned on scaffolding; the framework for "The Gates of Hell" against which Rodin flings himself; a raucous, deconstructed can-can. The large ensemble sections showcase the power of the corps, but this work is really about a tormented triangle.

Notably, Eifman has dispensed with pointe shoes for this ballet and it is wonderful to see the dancers' bare or lightly slippered feet as malleable as clay.

As always, Eifman's design team is masterful, modernist and intensely original, with Zinovy Margolin's geometric frameworks taking several forms, all gorgeously lit by Gleb Filshtinsky and the choreographer. The exquistely shaped yet fluid costumes are the creations of Olga Shaismelashvili.

The ballet's score is a mixtape of French composers from Rodin's era -- Ravel, Massenet, Debussy, Satie and Saint-Saens. It would be great to see this company dance to a live orchestra, though Eifman's propensity for musical collages (as well as budget issues) no doubt preclude this.

And one last note: Like all Russian companies, the Eifman Ballet knows how to take bows. It is a skill Chicago performers -- who often seem embarrassed by curtain calls -- need to master.

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This page contains a single entry by Hedy Weiss published on May 18, 2013 4:46 PM.

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