The Rodin Project, Sadler’s Wells, London
It takes a while for The Rodin Project, the latest work from choreographer Russell Maliphant, to get out from under its own draperies. Inspired by the work of the French sculptor, with a fascinating cast who can do everything from hip hop to burlesque, the show spends too long in artistic poses.
The Rodin Project had its UK premiere as part of British Dance Edition, the industry showcase of UK dance. More British performances are expected, as part of the work’s international tour.
The set, by Es Devlin and Bronia Housman with Maliphant, is a steep pile of angled surfaces, shrouded in white sheets. As dancers recline on it, it looks like the unshaped marble at the base of a sculpture. Alexander Zekke’s music is full of long string notes, building into faster rhythms.
Maliphant moves his cast, dressed in more draperies by Stevie Stewart, through curving lines. In one duet, a woman arches back as a man leans over her, echoing Rodin’s “The Kiss”. Jenny White advances on Tommy Franzén, holding out a pair of poles; they dance together, a yardstick apart.
The six dancers - three men, three women - have varied training. Most have contemporary dance and hip hop experience; Franzén is a street dance star, White has danced with Hofesh Shechter, Adele and in burlesque. They’re a terrific cast, but the drifting lines don’t make the most of their charisma.
The pace picks up in the second half, losing the draperies: the set is bare, the dancers dressed in street clothes. In groups, the dancers climb the peaks of the set, surging upwards. The speed and unison get closer to the vast energy of Rodin’s sculptures.
There’s a parallel dance for Franzén and Dickson Mbi, with Mbi on a sloping platform, while Franzén echoes his steps while clinging to a vertical wall. The lighting, by Michael Hulls, bathes everybody in soft golden light, or picks out their hands, like anatomical studies.
There are stronger scenes: Franzén and Thomasin Gülgeç jumping around each other with street dance power, the three women shifting in unison like unusually sleek backing singers. The three men are more individual than the women, given more distinctive solo opportunities. One woman stands draped in just a sheet, turning as the fabric settles over her naked body. Her poise is beautiful, but she’s almost abstract: an image of an artist’s model.
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