After the success of 2009’s Afterlight in which Daniel Proietto embodied the spiralling drawings of Vaslav Nijinsky , Russell Maliphant returns to the stage with a new work inspired by artistic subject matter – this time the sculptures of Auguste Rodin . Unlike the original Afterlight solo, however, The Rodin Project is a full-evening work performed by a cast of six, and from the outset signifies the scale of its ambition with the vastness of its stage set.
The first act is performed on, under and within a towering pile of fabric. Huge drapes of the stuff cascade from the ceiling, pile up on the floor in soft mountains and wrap around the cast, who sometimes appear like Grecian figures swathed in togas and sometimes like figures posing on a bed or a couch. The set [by Es Devlin and Bronia Housman ] conjures up the idea of some vast atelier hung with cloths and curtains – but one so enormous that it fairly dwarfs the performers and makes each delicate, sculptural action seem tiny.
Not until Maliphant’s trio of women climb atop the big fabric pile to sit facing away from us, curving arms and torsos in a supple triptych of undulating coils does the movement material become distinct, visible against the giant set. Men wrestle, figures process sculpturally across the stage and Michael Hulls’ beautiful lighting design picks out tiny details from the frame, but the first half is really all about the decor.
The second act could be set in a sculpture park – the set is still huge, but now seemingly carved from large slabs of rock. Dancers cartwheel their way up a ramp and slide elegantly down; they group up and disperse again, creep across the stage in kneeling poses, cling to a wall and display just a touch of tasteful nudity. Alexander Zekke’s new string score washes over the whole in vaguely oriental tones – a hint of raga here, a choppy rhythm there. As ever, Maliphant’s style is easy on the eye; but where Afterlight brought a sense of vividness to the stage, Nijinsky’s drawings animated by Proietto’s supple frame, The Rodin Project is by comparison rather flat and static.
Much has been made of Maliphant’s use of two hip hop dancers for this production – Blaze‘s Tommy Franzen and newcomer Dickson Mbi . In truth, the grounded, floor-embracing style of B-boying and the fluid ripples of Popping are not so far removed from the choreographer’s own usual technique, and the hip hoppers seem quite at home in the Maliphant style. Some of the female dancers are, however, not so comfortable.
Although one would not usually describe Maliphant’s work as especially masculine – no death-defying tricks or crashes to the knees – that characteristic flow and those soft drops require a certain weightedness, a certain strength to achieve. Most female dancers – with the notable exceptions of Dana Fouras and Sylvie Guillem – are much too placed and elevated to really nail the style; and that’s a shame, because if The Rodin Project is about anything, it’s about the weight and gravity of Rodin’s sculptures.
There are moments to enjoy here – beautiful candlelit ensemble sections, an inventive climbing duet that finds its performers inverted as often as erect, images that flicker on the memory after the curtain has gone down. But (set excluded) the evening as a whole contains too little of substance for its length, and what there is appears cautious rather than minimal by design. Rodin’s statues always give the uncanny sense that they’re about to hop off the plinth and go somewhere; The Rodin Project by contrast never quite comes to life.
Originally published at www.londondance.com