Dance: Review – Russell Maliphant Company in The Rodin Project at Sadler’s Wells

Russell Maliphant Company 'The Rodin Project'

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

Dance:Inteview – Betsy Gregory, Dance Umbrella

Betsy Gregory. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Betsy Gregory is Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella, Britain’s largest international festival of new dance. The festival, established in 1978, invites and commissions work by choreographers and companies from around the world and offers a platform to emerging artists through its Brief Encounters strand. A former Associate Director of The Place, Betsy joined Dance Umbrella at the end of 1997, and succeeded Val Bourne as Artistic Director in 2007.

“When the idea of London hosting British Dance Edition 2012 was born, it was actually a partnership between the venues for obvious reasons. However, when the partners started planning they realised that what should be coming out of BDE is a strategic partnership for dance development in London, and so they invited Dance Umbrella to be part of the consortium. Our role has been to be one of the programming voices but also, in a way, to be the non-aligned voice, that is not being aligned to a venue.

“Certainly over the time I’ve been with Dance Umbrella the dance landscape has changed – largely, I think it’s fair to say, because of all the pioneering work that Val [Bourne] did over many years. What we’re really focusing on now is what a festival can do that a venue can’t as easily – we’ve introduced strands of high quality free and outdoor performances, and very high level participatory work with artists such as Rosemary Lee, Stephen Petronio and Royston Maldoom . We take dance to unusual spaces and venues where it doesn’t normally go – and we make a point of creating a context around the work, building a story around the programme to expand the audience’s understanding and take them on a journey.

“We are extremely privileged in London because we see everything. I think London must be the world’s crossroads for dance – I dare say not even in New York is there such a range of international work passing through. We see not only the most established companies from around the world, but also a fantastic range of international artists at all stages of their careers, from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, from everywhere. It’s a marvellous thing for audiences and it’s also a really stimulating thing for artists, to have that such a diversity of work at their fingertips in order to feed their own practice.

“On a very simple but important level, the difference between the UK and the US is that we still have government funding of the arts in this country; it’s a terrible thing that it’s been reduced on the scale that it has, but we still have it. What I have observed in New York over the last 10 – 15 years, where there is almost a complete lack of statutory funding, is that there is less time for artists to work and therefore there’s not as much inspirational work coming from there as there could be. I fear that’s what’s going to happen here.

“I’m really excited about going to see the David Hockney exhibition [The Royal Academy] , I must say. I also recommend the Sir John Soane Museum , an amazing, small museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was an 18th century architect who built the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and a lot of other buildings. He had three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which he knocked together. This museum is his house and also his collection of antiquities – it’s very eccentric and very wonderful. When I have visitors I always send them there. Look it up, it’s good!”

Originally published at