Review: Sylvie Guillem / Robert Lepage / Russell Maliphant in Eonnagata at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 Jun 09
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 26 June 2009

I went to pay a quick return visit to *Eonnagata* – having reviewed the premiere back in March – to see what if anything had changed, either in terms of the show itself or in my opinions of it.

There were some obvious differences: one of the most prominent photo images from the first run, of Maliphant levering an apparently comatose Guillem from the floor with his wooden stave, no longer appears and one of the musical compositions had been replaced. But the overall timing and effect are very much the same.

This is a work that is easy on the eye. It looks stunning largely due to the remarkable lighting of Michael Hulls, which pulls the episodic framework of the Chevalier d‘Éon’s story together; the costumes of Alexander McQueen and the simple pleasure of seeing Sylvie Guillem speak and move. But the fragmented nature of its many sections takes risks with the audience’s attention and certainly some scenes (notably the ‘letters from home’ sequence) dragged. Although those around me saw great humour in the stick versus hoop (clearly representations of genitalia) duel of d‘Éon with the Chevalier Saint-Georges, I just found it rather badly (ie ultra cautiously) performed and silly. I also found the incongruity of the Japanese-themed scenes to be a distraction.

Guillem is the star. Her opening monologue about the Chevalier’s life is poetically and (for some at least) seductively delivered and her slow dance solos around the mirrored tables are the highlight in movement terms. She still has the most deliciously arched and pointed feet in dance. I regret to say that I was far less interested in Robert Lepage’s contribution at this second viewing where, perhaps the novelty had worn off, and although Maliphant is an imposing physical presence, this aura is lost when he speaks. The clever optical illusions established through the inter-action of the three performers and Hulls’ lighting retained all of its magic.

The overall visual artistry in the baroque majesty of the work is well worth seeing but there is still at least 20 minutes than can be cut to greatly improve its flow.

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