Camille Claudel waits patiently, a sculpture herself, as the audience enters the Studio Theatre of the Pleasance Courtyard. Her smile, welcoming but manic, is directed at each individual as they tentatively join the space.
Her wrists, resting supine and bared on her lap, portend the abuse that leads to Camille's infamous demise.
The world premier of the one-woman show, Camille Claudel, is written, performed, and directed by Gaël Le Cornec, a self-titled zoo archeologist from Brazil who decided the time had come to tell stories. Le Cornec seamlessly weaves the narrative of Claudel's life with nothing on stage but a chair and "une petite verre."
She transitions from moment to moment with a violent swish of her skirt - sharing a dance with Debussy, recriminating her lover, Rodin, and fervently kneading her clay. She fills every corner of the stage with the graceful movement and simmering energy of an artist without an outlet.
Le Cornec spares not a moment to explicate; rather, she expects her intelligent audience to maintain her pace. Without at least a rudimentary knowledge of Claudel's history, the narrative may be somewhat difficult to follow, though the intense genius and dangerous passion of the eponymous character would enervate even those with the slightest prior knowledge. Moments of Camille's story come and go with a frenzy, as beguiling and fascinating as real life. Rather then playing both characters in an exchange, Le Cornec simply reacts appropriately. Her responses are exact and powerful. A backwards dip and giggle; she has been whisked away by a partner to dance. Head snapped left, mouth agape; a slap with no hand to precede it. The audience can still feel the sting.
Le Cornec skilfully captures Claudel's intense committment to her work, her fury towards her rogue lover, her desperation near the end of her life--all of these emotions are poignantly communicated. But the most striking moments come when she recites the letters Claudel wrote to her Maman. Soft white light bathes her as she sits in her chair and implores her mother to take her in, to care for her. These rare quiet moments ground the work and offer an intimacy that the more feverish moments cannot. Le Cornec uses the letters to draw the audience - some literally leaning forward in their chairs, hanging on each word of the desperate missives before the lights come up again and the fervor of Claudel returns in full.
Le Cornec frequently propositions her audience throughout the work: "How many of you would buy my art? This art?" A smattering of hands rose timidly into the air. Le Cornec ensnares her audience with questions and propositions, placing them in the collective of turn-of-the-century French society, labeling them the voyeurs responsible for her rapid spiral into insanity. "How many of you have loved? I see more of you have loved than have bought art." She glares accusingly, then dances into the next moment of her journey with abandon. At one light-hearted moment, Le Cornec asks someone from the audience to drink with her. I raise
my hand and she hands me a glass of light green liquid. "Santé," she says, as we gulp it down at once, further tying her audience to the fabric of the piece.
A raw, inspiring, and tulmultuous affair with art and with love, Camille Claudel is a gem within the milieu of the Edinburgh Fringe. Le Cornec's firey and affecting performance is sure to resonate deeply within audiences, forcing them to reflect upon their own dedication to that which makes their lives meaningful.
Camille Claudel runs at the Pleasance Courtyard from the 4th through the 27th of August.