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Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal

March 27, 2014

Rodin/Claudel

Reviewed March 27, 2014

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances March 28 & 29, 8 p.m.)

Photograph by John Hall

Photograph by John Hall

Rodin/Claudel, a two-act story ballet by Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz, is based on the lives of renowned 19th century French sculptors Auguste Rodin and the much younger Camille Claudel, their tumultuous affair and Claudel’s eventual madness – she was diagnosed as having schizophrenia and confined to a psychiatric hospital for 30 years.

Rodin is probably best known for one of his later bronze sculptures, Le Penseur (The Thinker), which shows a nude male figure sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand as if deep in thought. This pose is “copied” by the dancer portraying Rodin, Marcin Kaczorowski, as well as some of the other artists at various times during the performance.

The protagonists, danced by Kaczorowski and Valentine Legat Thursday, look amazingly like the real characters. Michael Gianfrancesco’s beautiful costumes in deep-coloured shades of emerald, burgundy and plum, and musical interludes by the likes of 19th/20th century avant-garde French composers Erik Satie (Je te veux) and Francis Poulenc (Les chemins de l’amour) set the theme firmly in fin-de-siècle France.

Gianfrancesco has also created a simple wall of tiles, set off to one side of the stage, which changes color with each scene to add mood. Sometimes it becomes translucent to highlight the shadows of figures moving behind it.

The minimalist props include a rolling rectangular-shaped platform, a large tree branch that descends from the ceiling to set the scene for an outdoor picnic, and a chandelier as backdrop to Claudel’s final art showing.

Quanz, an award-winning Canadian choreographer known for shorter neoclassical ballet works, created this first full-length work in 2011. It appears true to the real story of the famous French artists, which is the stuff of great expression. He has inserted some rather clever elements to tell the tale, but there is a lack of cohesion and intermittent confusion, especially when dozens of dancers fill the stage with seemingly random movement.

It helps a great deal to understand the story, which is explained briefly in the program notes. Oftentimes the dancing takes a back seat to the story, however, resulting in tense bewilderment.

While the dancers in general appear off-key Thursday, the duet by Kaczorowski and Legat when they first meet and fall in love is quite striking in its sculptural effect, keeping with the artistic elements of the story. Eline Malègue as Rose Beuret, Rodin’s longtime lover and eventually his wife, is an emotive dancer, expressing her character’s pain of being scorned for Claudel and her devotion to Rodin throughout.

But the standout characters are “the sculptures,” portrayed in beautiful living form by the finely chiseled bodies of a dozen artists of the ballet corps. They open the work, draped in an aesthetic pile of frozen forms against the raised platform, and then they come to life. Clad in nude-coloured tight-fitting costumes, they represent the clay that artists Rodin and Claudel work with throughout the performance. They also act as stage assistants, pushing the platform about the stage to form various settings for the story.

Marc Parent’s lighting sets their bodies in sharp contrasts of light and shade to emphasize their sculptural attributes. These 12 dancers remain onstage for most of the performance, sometimes striking poses, but mostly squirming effectively into forms and thoughts, signifying the creative imaginations of the main characters.

The more lighthearted first act, which introduces us to the characters and their creative lives, gives way to a descent into madness for the final act. An abortion scene, with a creepy doctor and two odd-looking nurses, is peculiar and almost inappropriately comic.

A final scene has Legat entering a showing of her art barefoot and wild-looking in a frothy red dress. Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, played live by the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the baton of Allan Lewis, accompanies Legat’s portrayal of the disturbed Claudel with shrill strings and pounding percussion, and is followed by an effective sudden silent pause as Claudel realizes her reality.

The curtain falls on the “thinking” Rodin and Beuret reaching towards him, alone on the platform, to the accompaniment of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke’s bleak In Memoriam für Orchester Tempo di Valse.

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From → Ballet

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