‘Claudel’ at the Sydney Opera House. Pic Daniel Boud

Australians conquered Paris with Claudel, and now we know why.  Our world-famous choreographer Meryl Tankard and  playwright Wendy Beckett created an innovative way of telling the story of French sculptor Camille Claudel (1864-1943). It premiered in Paris in 2018 at the Athénée Theatre then moved to the Festival d’Avignon, gaining good reviews.

 “A magnificent creation” – Spectatif

“A piece all powerful in its subtlety… a great moment of theatre to discover.” – Publik Art Review

Claudel is a combination of narrative, dance, sculpture and music. Beautiful, stark and near-naked dancers pose the sculptures of both Claudel and her teacher Rodin created over their decade-long relationship. The dancers also fluidly portray the love-making, an abortion and Claudel’s later angst.

But Claudel’s tragic emotional breakdown is not distressing to watch. The play is presented as a story, not an intense character piece.  We are not intensely engaged with a character. We are the watchers.  It  is a chronological telling of the woman’s long life that necessarily speeds through the major events. In one moment Claudel is invited to Rodin’s studio and the next she is seducing him. Then in a flash, years have passed and she announces she is pregnant. The story is equally told by the dancers bringing sculptures to life before your eyes. The set is marvellous. I loved the huge clay-splashed backdrop. I would have liked the voices of the actors playing the mother and the brother to be a bit louder. 

Much of Claudel’s work resides in Musée Camille Claudel in Nogent-sur-Seine, which opened in 2017. 

There have been many  Claudel stories.  Some scholars assert that Henrik Ibsen based his last play, When We Dead Awaken, on Rodin’s relationship with Claudel.   There has been one opera and three Claudel films, one starring Gérard Depardieu as Rodin.  And, on  Dec 8th, 2019, Google did a Claudel Doodle.  “Google celebrates French sculptor Camille Claudel on her 155th birthday. Facing many challenges as a woman in art, Claudel’s determination pushed her to continually break gender moulds and create even in the face of adversity.”

‘Claudel’ is playing the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House until Sunday 9th May, 2021.

Featured image : ‘Claudel’ at the Sydney Opera House. Pic Daniel Boud.


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