Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Rodin Project

Sadler's Wells, 29 October 2012

Erebus, a film of parts of the Rodin Project (available online at the space

Interesting ideas and arresting images, some of them loosely Rodin-related, but stretched too thinly over a full evening of dance.

What might it mean for a dance work to be inspired by the work of a great sculptor? Statues are still and silent, dance is fluid and musical. Neither artform employs language, so that communication is direct to the spectator, though this needn’t mean that everything is communicated immediately.

The principal way in which Russell Maliphant (choreographer) and Michael Hulls (lighting designer) have been influenced by Rodin is in the way light falls on the human body, and the suggestiveness of shadows. They succeed in making Rodin seem as if he were trying to capture the light on dancers, rather than the other way round – linking him with the sculpted dancers of Degas.

Although this is an impressive achievement, I didn’t feel it was worth exploring over a full evening. Maliphant and his team make other allusions to Rodin but these seem spurious, such as some neoclassical cavorting, or some musical resonances with Massenet; but while these ideas are contemporary with Rodin, they are very separate from his cragged nobility.

Thankfully these superfluous touches do not dominate, and the work as a whole seems self-contained and might as well refer to anyone else with as much justification as Rodin.

The highlight of Maliphant’s scuttling choreography is a scene involving two men and a wall. The low points are anything involving women. On the one hand, this suggests the weakness of the ensembles, where everyone seems to be doing something similar, though not identically, but in any case nothing is very memorable. On the other, when the women are on their own, the result is sickly. This may reflect Rodin’s women accurately, but it can’t have been a good idea to display the sculptor’s weaknesses. 

Among the dancers, all heroic, Dickson Mbi deserves special mention for a solo scene that came closest to giving the impression that one of Rodin’s sculptures had come to life. Somehow, popping combined with angular poses conveys Rodin in movement. It was astonishing.

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