The neoclassical ballet, Rodin/Claudel, traces the famous sculptors lives and love affair
The empty stage was eagerly waiting for the much anticipated show to start. The grandiose images of Rodin and Claudel hovering as backdrops for the stage filled the atmosphere of Theatre Maisonneuve with a mixture of uncertainty and curiosity, inciting the audience to imagine what could possibly come next.
This month, Les Grands Ballets de Montreal is restaging Rodin/Claudel, a neoclassical ballet conceived by Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz. This theatrical fusion of classical, academic ballet with contemporary concepts tells a story of passion, obsession and betrayal portrayed by the tumultuous lives of French sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. Aside from the titular characters, Quanz also uses a 12-member ensemble composed of six men and six women that embody the sculptures made by the two artists, and at the same time, the inflections of their feelings to revive this fervent story.
The famous 19th century sculptors meet in Paris in 1883 when Rodin is 43 and Claudel 19. Passionate about sculpture, she is sent by her father to Paris to study art. As women aren’t allowed to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux Arts at this time, she rents a studio shared with other sculptresses. Later she becomes an assistant and muse to Rodin. The intense love affair that forcefully blooms between them lasts for years, yet Rodin refuses to leave his other companion who bears him a son and who later becomes his wife.
As Rodin becomes more and more successful, Claudel, suffering disappointment in love and in her artistic path, sinks into poverty and gradually descends into madness — she spends the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.
The dancers wear period costumes with a touch of modernity, such as extravagant coloured dresses and suits, and costumes suggesting the paradisiacal nude covering the carefully carved bodies of the “sculptures.”
Beginning with the first scene, the décor impresses by its simplicity and neoclassical features. It is composed of a long white box that changes its position from scene to scene and a wall of lights that changes its minimalistic pattern, both are used to evoke the place where the characters are found (in a room, in the woods). Using less rigid, more flowing contemporary movements filling each corner of the stage, the dancers immerse the audience in the real-life love story of Rodin and Claudel governed by very well chosen music.
Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, Satie and Poulenc highlight with great precision the emotions and feelings of the characters and also of the dancers. However, very talented dancers, interesting plot and the best of romantic, impressionistic and avant-garde music is not enough to fully encourage the artistic capabilities of the dancers. Despite the free, contemporary style of the talented dancers, their movements lacked rigour, precision, and rhythm. So here, it seems as though the story takes precedence over the choreography and dance, that comes second.
The end of the show, marked by a metaphoric denouement of this unconventional love story, excited the audience who got up from their seats to applaud the gifted dancers, and passionately shout “Bravo!” Except for that one gentleman who is roused from a deep sleep by their applause — all of a sudden, he enthusiastically joins the audience shouting “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” just to get in on the action.
Les Grands Ballet de Montreal’s Rodin/Claudel runs until March 22 at Théâtre Maisonneuve.