Rodin had a love life to match the tremendous energy of his sculptures. In “Rodin,” the Eifman Ballet’s vigorous work about the well-favored artist, imagined passions are channeled into two hours of entwining bodies and sweat that felt like the Olympics of dance.
Rodin, who was famously inspired by dancers as well as by the female form, might have liked it a lot. The ladies in question, not so much.
I was of two minds. On the one hand, the dancing by the St. Petersburg-based company was sensational — truly a full-bodied, multi-sensory experience. Sitting in your seat at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, you couldn’t help but feel sympathetically pushed, pulled and thrust into the air along with the dancers portraying Rodin, his lover and artist colleague Camille Claudel, and his lifelong partner, Rose, as they tussled out their points of view.
Lucky Rodin: On Friday he was embodied by Oleg Gabyshev, sleek and dashing, with a dangerous air. The women had less dimension. Lyubov Andreyeva’s Camille was stormy, wild-eyed from start to finish; Yulia Manjeles’s Rose was sly and twiggy.
Surely warm, wet clay is no more malleable than their bodies. In fact, other dancers often posed as lumps of clay, in flesh-toned underwear, to be caressed and molded into recognizable Rodin works. Making sculpture dance may seem a difficult task, but that was not the case here because of the deeply expressive, uninhibited and acrobatic freedoms employed by choreographer Boris Eifman, the company’s artistic director. The recorded music included excerpts by Ravel, Camille Saint-Saens and Jules Massenet.
But the ballet is longer than it needs to be. By the first intermission, we’ve seen just about all of Eifman’s range, and the second half is more of the same — more duets where the dancers fly at each other like tigers, more demonic episodes in which Rodin manipulates bodies and souls like a mad scientist. The story starts at full throttle, with a deliciously creepy scene in the insane asylum where Claudel ends up, surrounded by inmates swept up in different kinds of crazy. In flashbacks, she meets Rodin, they’re suddenly putty in each other’s hands; whoops, he’s got sour Rose back at home feeding him soup; it gets complicated . . . and we’ve already seen how it concludes, so the dramatic tension has been undercut from the start.
“I see all the truth, and not only that of the outside,” Rodin once boasted. But while its outside qualities are quite amazing, the Eifman Ballet can’t make the same claim.