Thursday night GG and I went over to see Eonnagata, which got its first, and so far, only scheduled U.S. staging, courtesy of Cal Performances. The title of this dance-theater hybrid comes from combining the title of Charles de Beaumont, otherwise know as the Chevalier d'Éon with onnagata- which is kind of a drag version of Kabuki theater. Beaumont was an 18th century French diplomat, military man, spy and cross-dresser. Whether his transvestism was initiated to facilitate his exploits in these various roles or was a ploy which gave him a cover to liberate an inner need or desire, I don't know. It doesn't matter- the show isn't about history- it's about identity.
It was conceived and is performed by three heavyweights from various disciplines: Frenchwoman Sylvie Guillem, who as a ballerina was a muse for Nureyev and walked away from that discipline to pursue modern dance; Canadian-born dancer-choreographer Russell Maliphant, whose impact is most forcefully felt in Europe; and Robert Lepage, whose theater company Ex Machina has staged productions ranging from Cirque de Soleil's Ka, a Peter Gabriel tour, and is currently unveiling Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera over this season and the next. The costumes are by the late Alexander McQueen. This all adds up to one serious pedigree.
And while all of that is what made me want to see it, I was unprepared for how profoundly it spoke to something elemental, primal even, in how we view ourselves. Each of the participants is stretching the boundaries of what they normally do here. What Guillem can do with her limbs and body is phenomenal, but she also speaks and sings in this piece. Maliphant is performing as well as choreographing. and Lepage has perhaps the most difficult challenge, since he isn't regarded as a performer (at least not before this).
None of this really matters, by the way. What does matter is that for almost an hour and a half, these three take the audience on a magical mystery tour of what it means to be alive and to acknowledge one's identity, however complicated that may be. This resonated with me for reasons I wish I could go into in depth, but I really can't because of personal obligations to someone close to me. What I can say is the end of the piece, which has Guillem and Maliphant leaning over Lepage's body as they do an autopsy to determine Beaumont's gender, was among the most moving theatrical moments I've ever experienced. Yes, there is a much more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now. If Eonnagata
is reprised and you have a chance to experience it, please do so. There are so many beautiful moments in this work that will never leave your mind once you've seen them. In a word- stunning.
After the performance we stopped at Sportivo for dinner. The two brothers who run the restaurant made us feel welcome despite us walking in toward the end of the night, and the food and drink were great. We both agreed we'd go back in a heartbeat. Check them out when you're in the neighborhood.
Jon and Carl- how interesting to run into you guys at this show. Hope to see you both again soon!