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Eifman Ballet finds inspiration in Rodin’s figures

'Rodin' by Eifman Ballet St. Petersburg Russia.  |  Nikolay Krusser photo

"Rodin" by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia. | Nikolay Krusser photo

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◆ 7:30 p.m. May 17; 8 p.m. May 18; 3 p.m. May 19

◆ Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress

◆ Tickets, $30-$90

◆ (800) 982-2787;

Updated: May 17, 2013 3:22PM

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia has visited Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on a regular basis since 2000. With its astonishing company of more than 50 dancers backed by lavish, almost cinematic design, it is a grand showcase for the unique vision of its founder and choreographer, Boris Eifman, now 66, whose full-length ballets invariably examine the tormented psyches of artists (Tchaikovsky, Cervantes, Moliere, the ballerina Olga Spessivtseva), as well as historical and literary characters (Anna Karenina, Eugene Onegin and the Hamlet-like son of Catherine the Great).

In his latest work, “Rodin” — to be performed here May 17-19 — Eifman explores the agonies and the ecstasies of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), delving into the French sculptor’s turbulent relationship with both his wife, Rose, and his mistress and muse, Camille Claudel, who was a hugely talented artist in her own right.

“Suffering is not the ideology behind my own art,” said Eifman. “But I am attracted by those artists with tragic biographies — people who live in a special world, who see what we normal people don’t see. They open new worlds for me. They make my fantasy world richer. And they give me new possibilities for my own creativity.”

And in Rodin — whose masterworks include “The Kiss,” The Thinker,” “The Burghers of Calais” and “The Gates of Hell” (that monumental “door” evoking scenes from Dante’s “The Inferno”) — Eifman found a particularly kindred artistic spirit.

“We share a special eye for the body, for the desire to open the secrets of this incredible creation of God. Sculpture and choreography are very closely related, yet there is a significant difference, too. In his sculpture [often worked in clay to start, then cast in plaster and forged into bronze or carved in marble], Rodin tried to stop a moment of movement, and to see how much energy and emotion he could put into the material he was using. For me, even though the emotion being expressed is the same, the body is an instrument whose motion should never stop. And what I was most interested in revealing in this ballet is the process of making the work, as opposed to the final realization.”

Eifman found much inspiration at the Rodin Museum in Paris, as well as in the 1988 film, “Camille Claudel,” which starred Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu.

“Of course my dancers are tall, thin and beautiful, and Depardieu, the antithesis of ballet, is hardly my idea of Rodin,” said Eifman, laughing. “Adjani is closer to my vision.”

“Camille Claudel is the tragic figure in my ballet — a woman who was such an inspiration to Rodin, yet was very badly used by him. She was a great sculptor in her own right, but gave everything to this man who she loved and admired [and was with in one way or another from 1884 to 1898]. And he was like a vampire who killed her spirit. She ended up spending the last 30 years of her life in a madhouse.”

Set to music by Saint-Saens, Massenet and Ravel, Eifman’s “Rodin” ballet features a set that includes the sort of metal frameworks or armatures around which sculptures are built.

“For me they are very much like human skeletons,” said Eifman. “And also like crucifixion forms.”

Asked about his thoughts concerning recent events at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, and the acid attack this past January that left Sergei Filin, the company’s artistic director, seriously injured, Eifman said: “You wonder how that could be possible in the artistic world. It is something new and terrible, and I hope it is the first and last time. I also hope Sergei will recover and return to lead his company.”

As for the overall state of Russian society, Eifman takes the long view.

“Much has changed in the country, but we have emerged from a difficult background and the renovation of our political and economic system goes slowly. The change in mentality is most important, and requires hard work, energy and innovation. Russia is a big country, and it won’t happen in five years. It took Moses 40 years of wandering in the desert before he saw the Promised Land.”

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