Sylvie Guillem and the uncertainty of a new creation

28 Jun

Back in March 2009 I watched the final preview of Eonnagata
a stellar collaboration between Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and Robert Lepage with some incredible costumes by Alexander McQueen. The result was aninteresting and sometimes heady mix of Japanese kabuki, mime, dance and straight narrative. All three protagonists looked terribly excited to be on stage. Sylvie was genuinely glowing and Maliphant surely looked a very manly version of the Chevalier d’Éon. Lepage on the other hand looked very assured, despite the plain fact that his metier is directing and not being on the stage. The most wonderful aspect was the expectation of what those great artists have come
up with. Especially when considering the past collaborations between Maliphant and Guillem gave us some veritable gems.

Creating such a hybrid art form that mixes so many types of
performance is bound to be problematic
. And in this occasion the plot was wandering when it was trying to create beautiful images while falling the story by slowing down the pace of the narration. The best example being Maliphant’s battle scene. Surely one of the most
dramatically staged parts of the evening,but with very little character development. The musical choices where
very interesting and magpie like, but unfortunately clothed in a post modern ramble and haze that was not wholly appropriate. It gave the starting scene the air of a blockbuster action movie. Which I don’t think makes enough connection with the heart of the story.

Despite those failures Sylvie managed to use her stage
charisma to create some truly electrifying moments.
For instance her letter writing scene is a treatise on abstract characterisation and how it can be mingled with narrative passages, advancing the plot and humanising the character.

After the Premiere a couple of days after my experience of
the piece I looked forward to the reviews.
Most dance critics thought the work was confusing and lacked focus. A couple of them said the work was too long and that Lepage was not a natural dancer and the choreography was scaled down to suit him. All in all it seemed like a pretty unkind reaction to the work and surely not the warm reception that Guillem is used to.

When I received an email in early May that they would be
returning for another week of performances in June I instantly bought a pair of tickets in order to experience the work in its final form. On Friday 26 June I was in Row A trying to experience anew the work, wondering what alterations they had made. To my dismay two whole
scenes where cut, including the rather poetic sea passage from France to the UK.
This originally gave a wonderful respite from the action and allowed more compassion for the hero/heroine. Also a number of parts where shortened making the autopsy finale fell all too soon. While in the preview when the stage darkened with the ageing Chevalier’s body on the anatomist’s slab it was a shocking conclusion and a moment of catharsis both for the audience and the performers. This second time around the finale looked as if it had no reason to exist and had a hollow theatrical feel.

Deep in my heart I was disappointed, despite the great gift Sylvie Guillem is to the theatre. Her presence was not
enough to save the piece from its ponderous and slightly crushed ambition.
My feeling on the night was that the cuts were made in order to make the running time shorter by 15 minutes. Thus reacting to the main initial criticism. As
most of the other ones could not be addressed effectively without ripping the choreography apart.

I still felt that we were touched by greatness but somehow I
also sensed that all three of them did not want to be on the Sadler’s Wells stage. My one hope is that Sylvie and
Maliphant will rework the piece
and remove some of its dubious “post-modern” stylings and give the Chevalier the chance to shine.  I do wish her more luck with her next project and surely I’ll be there to applaud her.

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