Established in 1977, Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg has over the past 15 years brought to Boston a slew of Boris Eifman’s tormented psychodramas: “Tchaikovsky,” “Red Giselle,” “Russian Hamlet,” “Don Juan & Molière,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Seagull,” and “Onegin.” “Rodin,” which spent the weekend at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, is sculpted from the same clay. But it’s more reserved, and more rewarding, than most of what Eifman has given us.
Title aside, “Rodin,” which premiered in St. Petersburg in 2011, is really about 19-year-old Camille Claudel, who in 1884 became 43-year-old Auguste Rodin’s assistant, model, and lover. The piece opens in the asylum where Claudel was committed, in 1913, by her family, and where she lived for the remaining 30 years of her life. Female inmates hold hands and walk in a big circle, their heads lolling from side to side, the women smiling vacantly at the audience.
From there, “Rodin” flashes back 30 years to the sculptor’s studio (it looks like a set out of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”), where he and Claudel meet and, to Debussy’s “Clair de lune,” fall in love. The snag is that Rodin already has a live-in mistress of 20 years, seamstress Rose Beuret, whom he met, as we see later, at a grape festival. Beuret pursues Claudel throughout, eventually driving her away. At a nightspot with squealing can-can dancers, Claudel has an almost-fling with Debussy (not identified as such in the program, but the resemblance is unmistakable) before descending into madness.
Lucid narrative has never been Eifman’s strong point. You wouldn’t know from “Rodin” that Claudel was a sculptor before she met him, or that he made her abort their child, or that she became paranoid. We see only a little of their work: his “Burghers of Calais” and “Gates of Hell,” her “The Waltz,” “Clotho,” and, in a pulsing dream sequence to the “Danse générale” of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé,” “The Wave.”
But Eifman doesn’t try to make Claudel into Rodin’s victim, or Beuret’s. (He does jab at critics.) And he conveys Rodin’s ambivalence about women as lovers versus women as models. It helps that his contortionist choreography — the extravagant leaps and lifts, the limbs thrashing in agony and ecstasy — conforms to the aesthetic of Rodin’s sculpture.
He also uses his composers well — Satie, Saint-Saëns, and Massenet in addition to Debussy and Ravel. And Saturday he had an outstanding trio in the lead roles: Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Claudel, and Yulia Manjeles as Beuret. Andreyeva has particularly expressive arms and legs, and she was chilling in her final exit, with the asylum inmates, to the “Meditation” from Massenet’s “Thaïs.”
Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
At: Cutler Majestic Theatre, SaturdayJeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.