I've just seen Eonnagata, a truly good performance with the best of theatre and dance worlds, where the star is a team of fantastic artists.
Robert Lepage, surrounded by a team of great collaborators, -Dancers Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant; Lighting designer Michael Hulls; Costume designer Alexander McQueen (yes, the recently dead fashion artist); and Sound designer Jean-Sébastien Côté-, has created a big work of art.
Even when the Toronto producer's publicity uses Lepage's name as if he were an isolated creator, this work couldn't be done without his amazing team; actually, it was conceived by Lepage, Guillem and Maliphant together.
Two worlds, Dance and Theatre, are there with the best of their traditions and artists' skills (well, Lepage, though not a good dancer at all, is a very skilled actor), and with technology helping all the time to make things appear better than they are; yes, this is an effective machinery for the performing arts and everything works wonderfully well.
There isn't, in this performance of Eonnagata, a marvelous acting work for my spectator memory, but there are indeed visual-and-sound images, and lots of them. It is the first time I could see on stage a successful game, explored by Bauhaus artists in the 1920's, of lines mixed with the human body in shadows; but I could also see those bodies recreated by sensational costumes designed by Alexander McQueen, malleable costumes, some spectacular, some fine and exact. I know I will remember that marvelous way of dancing (by Guillem specially), and that amazing way to use props and simple objects.
This is a story about a French transvestite spy (a hermaphrodite thought many) living in 18th-Century Europe (1) and this is also the story of how a terrible and strange life can be shown in a very beautiful way. We never see anything discordant or bizarre, even when half of the performance uses Japanese motifs and decorations (that's why the name of the play, of course, E-Onnagata, the female personification role in Kabuki) with a charcater living in the middle of the Baroque epoch. We are there only contemplating beauty, finesse, aesthetics, and curiosity. Yes, we love the character and his/her life, yes, the life of a transvestite, and with such a spectacular performance, who wouldn't?
I wonder about Lepage's obsession for spectacularity and for transforming tragedies or potentially bizarre stories into a kind of fairy tale and beautifully done stage performances, as if he didn't want to face anything from its horrible counterpart. Maybe here is where his success comes from: you can tell terrible things in a very beautiful way, with the best of forms, and with the best artists.
Trailer of Eonnagata
(1) Sadler's site says about: "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 in the furtherance of 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."