Thursday, December 6, 2012

With Apologies to Rodin

Workin' the toga. Photo: Laurent Phillippe
Choreography by Russell Maliphant inspired by Rodin's sculptures. What could go wrong?

Turns out, pretty much everything. The Rodin Project, at the Joyce through this weekend, is a drawn-out exercise in muscular posing and movement banality. The first of two acts is set in an idealized artist's studio, or possibly a muslin warehouse. The six dancers wear stylized togas; the mens' resemble ill-fitting diapers that serve to show off their sculpted torsos, and the womens', despite a smattering of peekaboo cutouts, are actually rather flattering (designed by Stevie Stewart). 

The claustrophobic set of ramped platforms and stub walls are similarly draped with beige cloth, and lengths of white chiffon hang evenly spaced, like wannabe Greek columns. The dancers take turns posing artfully between very slow moves, sliding down the ramps, and sometimes hopping between daises like sluggish frogs on lilypads. The score, by Alexander Zekke, drones and buzzes. The dancers file off in slow motion, seemingly as trapped as we are in aspic.

A couple of the women are drafted as nude artist models, posing coyly in demi-light. Three dancers wearing shaggy cloaks, a la Burghers of Calais, surround one of them menacingly. 

I imagine a dialogue: "Could one of you warm folks lend a cold lady a cloak?" "Get your own cloak, you lazy, indecent leech!" Times are tough in the arts, clearly. 

The second act features more actual dance performed in casual modern togs. The six dancers—Jennifer White, Carys Staton, Ella Mesma, Dickson Mbi, Thomasin Gülgeç, and Tommy Franzen—are trained in various genres, with an emphasis on hip-hop and commercial dance. The men are given the lion's share to do, muscling through Maliphant's blend of capoeira and stylized hip-hop. A verrrrry long duet, featuring much slow-mo pretend falling and frozen posing, takes place on the wall. The women don't have much to do, sadly, other than look beautiful. Zekke's score by this point does its best imitation of a jack-hammer, although I'd venture to say it's the context more than anything. There is one long intermission, or should I say respite, for a runtime of 90 minutes total.

If nothing else, the evening made me appreciate the mysterious, kinetic life force emanating from Rodin's bronze sculptures—how he created turmoil and movement in such base materials. And how incredible it is that, through no fault of their own, six live humans held no more life than clumps of clay.

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