By Carolina de Pedro Pascual - © 2006 - 2009 Danza Ballet
Eonagatta is a rare and fascinating work. For an hour and a half, its protagonists – Lepage, Guillem and Maliphant – trace an extraordinary story of sexual ambivalence based on the life of an aristocrat who continued to generate uncertainty about whether he was really a man or a woman to his dying day.
Chevalier d’Eon, on whose life Eonagatta is based, was a writer, swordsman and diplomat who formed part of Louis XV’s secret network of spies. In 1766 he was sent to London to carry out espionage on England and lived part of his life between France and London, sometimes as a man and other times as a woman. Some people called him Mademoiselle de Beaumont and others Chevalier d’Eon. He is reputed to be one of the first to use transvestism to mask his identity for espionage purposes. Because D’Eon had valuable information on England, when Louis XI died his successor agreed to continue to pay him a ministerial pension on condition that he dressed and behaved appropriately as a women. On the Chevalier’s death his true sex – he was a man – was confirmed. All these intriguing and conflicting biographical details form the basis of this daring and modern work.
Eonnagata must surely have disappointed those expecting to see Sylvie Guillem dancing throughout the show, as well as those wanting a more dancey and less theatrical spectacle. In the ballerina’s own words “Eonnagata is neither pure dance nor pure theatre”. In fact, the piece is a fascinating invention performed against a backdrop of brilliant scenography and theatrical effects of exquisite good taste.
The Canadian actor and director Lepage has said that he felt a special closeness to the Chevalier d’Eon when, “twenty years ago” he discovered his “darkest side”. Through the knight’s strikingly original life story, Lepage became aware of his own withdrawn character and “lone sexuality” and the feeling of closeness and empathy for the Frenchman’s suffering aided his journey. The work reaches the audience through the intensity of the story that unfolds on the stage and the extraordinary interpretations of the three protagonists, who perform a series of highly elaborate, visually poetic solos, duets and trios accompanied by captivatingly original theatrical effects.
Eonnagata is an ambitious production that combines words, music, martial arts and complex choreography performed by a sculptural Sylvie Guillem, impeccable as ever at the age of forty-four. This piece is a crucial step in her intelligent mission to reinvent herself as a dancer. Guillem – agile as a gazelle and with her elegant classical training still clearly visible – shows that time is still on her side and that she is far from being a purely classical dancer in pointe shoes. The introduction of Japanese Kabuki elements lends mystery to her dances, revealing what a mesmerizing and highly versatile dancer she is.
The central and recurrent themes of the work are the complexity of human nature and the struggle between head and heart. The inclusion of D’Eon’s thoughts as the story unfolds adds richness to the series of tableaux presented on stage. The three artists explore distinct aspects of human sexuality through allusions and references to the knight’s biography, creating a collage of his life.
A fourth contributor is the greatly talented designer Alexander McQueen. Admired and invited by Guillem as a major exponent of “elegance, refinement and talent”, McQueen had previously rejected highly prestigious offers from the world of theatre, including the Paris Opera but, when asked by the diva to collaborate, accepted with alacrity. Delving into the life of D’Eon and seizing the opportunity to design for Guillem, McQueen has created magical costumes that place the human body at the frontier of androgyny.
Lepage’s fascination with the Chevalier d’Eon has led to a beautiful and mysterious creation. Eonnagata is a curious mixture of styles in which swords, aikido sticks, mirrors, fans and a broad collage of music from Bach to taiko fuse to form an excellent piece of modern art.