"Rodin / Claudel"
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens
Theatre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts
Montreal, PQ, Canada
October 13, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
Foremost, this ballet probes the relationship of artist and work of art. Peter Quanz, author and choreographer of the "Rodin / Claudel" story, does it with movement that has body power and that haunts the stage. By animating the statues that populate his tale, Quanz shows they are not just putty in a sculptor's hands. They make demands and woe to the individual who disobeys the 11th commandment - thou shalt tend to thy work. As the statues take shape, their torsos seem as pliant as protoplasm. They twist and they torque. They flow singly as solitary figures or, grouped, surge as would salmon upstream. It is when they stall that the sculptor's diligence is crucial. "Rodin / Claudel" would be a rich dance work were it just a set of panoramas about the sculptor's art in process. This ballet, though, is also a true story about problematic people and the society to which they are expected to adapt. For the real people, Quanz uses a different type of dance than for the statues.
The statues appear to be larger than life. Not that the dozen dancers of Quanz's sculptures corps are giants, but because of their supple trunks, the doll-like dangle of their limbs, the white light on them and the little they wear, one has the impression that these are a grander than human species - just as are Auguste Rodin's actual sculptures. Representing exposed emotion, they are unashamed to look naked as stone. During the two-act course of the ballet, we are shown imitations of some of Rodin's famous works. There is an uncanny sense of coming-to-life in these poses. Moreover, Quanz has a sure eye for placing and spacing the different pieces to make them visually imposing. His trump effects, though, are with the sculptures corps as it streams across the stage or over a long pedestal to await the artist's touch.
The real people move and dance deliberately, in the tradition of dramatic ballet. Central are Rodin and his talented student-assistant Camille Claudel. She is willful and wants Rodin not only as teacher but also as lover. He can not decide between her and Rose Beuret, the mother of his son. Others entangled are Camille's brother, the future poet Paul Claudel and the siblings' conventional parents. More peripheral is a doctor who aborts Camille's baby and treats the "delirium" she suffers after being rejected by Rodin. Representing various social strata are the sculptors' female models, male artisans, social snobs of both genders plus a pair of nun nurses.
The easiest to portray theatrically is wild Camille and in this role Emilie Durville flaunts convention with conviction. Rodin emerges as a sensual man yet thoughtful and as having great reserves of feeling for both his work and for people - which Marcin Kaczorowski's performance renders richly. The sexually frustrated, introverted Paul Claudel serves as a contrast to his uninhibited sister. An initial hint of incest between the siblings remains just that and there is no premonition about Paul's poetry, so the brother figure is something of a puzzle - which Herve Courtain's take on the part can't solve unless Quanz decides to develop the role further. Rose (Marie-Eve Lapointe) and the siblings' mother (Tetyana Martyanova) are both women strongly set in their ways but the siblings' father emerges a blank without any identifying traits which a weak character too requires for visibility on stage. However, Camille's doctor (Jean-Sebastien Couture) is given too much attention. His solo is meaningfully danced, but our learning that the healer also has his problems is a distraction from the Auguste/Camille affair.
Camille's delirium, her mad scene, is the ballet's climax and ties the story of the statues/sculptor relationship and that of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel's affair into a knot. Camille realizes that she has lost Rodin but also feels he is poisoning her art. Unable to control her statues, she becomes their victim. After being cured of her delirium, Camille never sculpts again. We are told this ending in words, but also need to see it.
Music for the often gripping, sometimes puzzling action is Florian Ziemen's quilt of works by mostly French composers - Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel and Satie - plus some Schnittke. Allan Lewis conducted Les Grands Ballets' orchestra. Quanz makes even the familiar Ravel "La Valse" work for him. Those who remember Balanchine's ballet to this music will note that Camille tears off and hurls away her glove at precisely the moment Balanchine's debutante plunges her hand into a fateful black glove. Michael Gianfrancesco's sets and costumes, and Marc Parent's lighting were essential collaborators in realizing particularly the ballet's living statues. I saw the dress rehearsal on October 12 and the October 13 premiere. The ballet is scheduled to be in repertory several times until October 29 with two casts alternating.
Story ballets have a way evolving. Even "Swan Lake" isn't finished yet from the evidence of recent productions. I suspect Quanz will change a few things in the real life story of "Rodin / Claudel" but hope he doesn't in the story of the statuary - it is potent as is.