Sunday, 14 November 2010

Art therapy

So, last night I was lying in a foetal position on my bed. It was 6:15 and we had to leave the house in an hour to attend a ballet at the National Arts Centre. I didn't want to go. I was exhausted, foot-sore, periodical, miserable. The performance in question was Éonnagata. All I knew about it was that it featured Robert Lepage, a man who personifies the terms "enigmatic" and "eccentric". I knew he's famous for ground-breaking works and for being an artistic visionary and that he's extremely well-known in his native Québec. I knew him from his participation in one of my absolute favourite movies Jésus de Montréal in which he plays an enigmatic and eccentric actor who asks to perform the "to be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet in a passion play -- and does without a flicker of irony. Lying there, all I could think of was The Great Gonzo tap-dancing in oatmeal on The Muppet Show, bellowing, "Art! Art!" I was way too tired for this.

Well, I managed to pull myself together and plod out into the night with the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter. And by golly, I'm glad I did!

Éonnagata is the story of Le Chevalier D'Éon, born (take a deep breath) Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont in 1728. The ambiguity of her/his name carried on throughout his/her life. S/he spent the first part of it as a man and the second part as a woman.

The story is told in ballet/acrobatics/martial arts/ by three actors/dancers/performers: the ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem, the independent dancer/choreographer Russell Maliphant (actually born in Ottawa, but associated with British dance) and Lepage who is kind of Canada's answer to Jonathan Miller. If you look these people up, you'll understand we were watching a kind of "dream team" cast.

The music moves from soundscapes to Rococo to driving drums. All three performers dress in sort of tunics which suggest breasts on the men and tights which suggests a bulge on Ms Guillem. The Resident Fan Boy told me he had some difficulty distinguishing between them, but I didn't and I found this delightful. Sylvie Guillem, who is a superb dancer, moved with feminine grace and form, and I found the two men who moved with equal grace, unmistakeably male in their movement. There was another bonus in being able to watch three mature artists at work: Guillem is 45, Malifant is 49, and Lepage is nearly 53. The only times I felt pulled out of the story, which follows the Chevalier's life as set out in a brief poetic narrative at the beginning of the piece, were in the sections where Robert Lepage is dressed as a woman. He's taller and broader than the other two who are similarly built, so these moments had a "Dame Edna Everage" quality.

No matter. I was mesmerized. I also noticed that younger daughter, who stimmed and fidgeted quite a bit at the National Ballet's evening of short works two weeks earlier, was quite relaxed through the ninety-minute ballet, only stirring toward the end. After applauding enthusiastically, I asked younger daughter what she thought. "It was very good," she said gravely. The Resident Fan Boy informed me that it was like counting sheep.


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