Last Sunday I had the invaluable privilege of attending the Eifman Ballet’s production of Rodin, an original ballet about the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin and his apprentice and lover, Camille Claudelle. On Monday morning I half-begrudgingly looked up Alastair Macaulay’s review of the performance. As expected, the New York Times dance critic couldn’t be more off the mark.
In a scathing and obtuse attempt at review that shows no technical appreciation (prompting one to wonder if Mr. Macaulay has ever taken even a single dance lesson) and appears wholly motivated by the shallow desire to boost his image as a maverick wordsmith of infinite intellectualized experience with the arts, Macaulay rails at the melodramatic nature of the dance, which, he claims, is, like, so 30 years ago.
The revival of a style popular 30 years ago may not be new to Mr. Macaulay, who appears to have been at his trade for too long to produce anything but pompously embittered tirades, but it is a newer sight in 2012 than the de mode experimental abstractions designed to defy classical technique and shock the viewer with new contortions. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with these fashionable abstract experiments; I highly enjoyed, for example, Batsheva Dance Company, which presented at BAM last week much to Mr. Macaulay’s usual critical chagrin.
But Eifman’s psychological ballets are something new to the modern viewer, not least thanks to the fascinating choreographic melee of psychological, sexual and human elements that dance together with unrivaled fluidity (or as Macaulay sourly puts it, “psycho-sexo-bio-dance-drama”). You can bet you wouldn’t have seen anything close to the same degree of sensuality or the same stunning classical technical prowess, much less mixed together in a single balletic presentation, thirty years ago.
More importantly, dance is not all about history and context and the degree to which a particular performance mimics an existing trend. The measure of a dance is the way it makes you feel – in the moment, in the theater, in the midst of absorbing the choreographic expression coming to life through the dancers before you.
And Eifman’s Rodin, for all its dramatic gestural expressions (not actually that many in proportion to the vivid, flowing choreography upon which the story is carried), makes one feel a tremendous amount. As an audience member, you do not just feel sadness for the characters; you feel the full weight of their tragedy bearing down upon you. You feel mesmerized by the pure physical beauty with which the, yes, “sensationalist stew” of “art, love and psychosis” is conveyed. Rodin’s and Camille’s story, however perhaps inaccurately portrayed (a word of advice: don’t go to the ballet if you’re looking for an infallible history lesson), is undoubtedly one in which art, love and psychosis intermingled. It was therefore aptly chosen as the foundation for an exploration of those dramatic elements.
There is a very famous playwright whose works, dripping with melodramatic indulgence, have been revered for centuries on end. If the passage of thirty years had rendered the Elizabethan master too passé to be worth any kind of nuanced appraisal, then thirty years might make dramatic ballets worthy of equal dismissal. But at the very least, nothing could render a performance of such technical beauty and original blending of sculpture and humanity worthy of the kind of excoriation the Eifman received from Mr. Macaulay.
For passing amusement, I might be curious to see what Macaulay has to say about Shakespeare. But I won’t be reading any more of his dance reviews. I am very disappointed in the New York Times for its continued publication of such “staggeringly coarse” and “crudely sensationalist” diatribes from a writer who should be exploring the immense complexity of dance but evidently “lacks the skill to depict any of these things seriously.”