July 20, 2009

I’m not much of a dance person, I much prefer theatre and expositions of all kinds but I was drawn to Eonnagata. During the past 4 days and forming part of the annual, summer Grec Festival, this spectacular production could be seen at the Teatreonnagata400e Nacional de Catalunya (TNC).

The story unfolds throughout.

Eonnagata tells the story of the Chevalier d’Éon, Charles de Beaumont, diplomat, writer, swordsman and a member of the King’s Secret, a network of spies under the control of Louis XV. De Beaumont was perhaps the first spy to use transvestism to carry out his duties and until the day he died his true gender was a source of constant speculation, even provoking public bets in the late 18th century.

Produced by Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, it brings together three very creative minds: dancer Sylvie Guillem, theatre-maker Robert Lepage and choreographer Russell Maliphant. They dig into their respective backgrounds and also add from the ancient Kabuki technique of Onnegata, in which male actors portray female roles in an extremely stylised fashion. Equally important are the costumes designed by one very well-known Alexander McQueen.

Tickets were expensive, more than usual, a staggering 40 euros. So off I went this past Friday, 17th, unusually excited to see people dancing onstage, nicely dressed, as I can’t understand how people show up to the theatre in flip-flops…eonnagata-98-smallcroppedsite

If I could use only one word to describe the production, it would undoubtedly be crisp. As crisp as a new, starched white shirt. The lighting was extraordinary and the manner in which the dancers used the light as an almost tangible component adds great depth to the performance. It would be difficult to classify Eonnagata as strictly dance, as there are various moments in which narrative is employed to aid the story. (In French and English, so extremely annoying to have to read subtitles and only in Catalan. The English was obviously no problem, but my French is too rusty to be able to understand all that was being said). Forms of “battle” are employed, very Samurai-like, with swords and wooden poles. Support elements were very much in use, in the form of chairs, tables, mirrors, etc.pg-16-dance_142762t

In my opinion, the most important part of the representation, was without a doubt, the costumes. Very obviously Alexander McQueen. Petticoat cages, which back in the day, were worn under dresses to give volume, allowed slatted views of muscular legs. Gorgeous military jackets with their accompanying gold braiding. Billowing capes and codpieces. The costumes were designed as two layers. The element that never changed was the flesh-coloured, vertical-striped unitard which served as the base for the second layer. It gave a clear impression of nakedness, while the stripes elongated the body and blended with the lights. Clear references from Louis XV, kabukis and 21st century couture all came into play as an extremely important part, creating a sculptural fluidity in the dancers movement.

So what was it like? It was good, crisp, but there were moments that dragged on. (How many movements can be executed with tables and chairs?) Yes, the message was clear, one still, if not more nowadays, has to struggle with one’s identity and gender role in


the world. But it’s cold, the struggle doesn’t reach your insides and pull at your heart strings. Which is a pity…

And no, it probably wasn’t worth 40 euros, but, I repeat, the clothes and lighting were exceptional.

Written by Vera Ciria