KAGUYAHIME: three faces of the moon (and the sun)

AgnèsKagyahimeAlice Renavand and Hervé Moreau:

 “There came a wind like a bugle;/It quivered through the grass […] How much can come/And much can go/And yet abide the world!” [Emily Dickinson,“There came a wind”]

Ah, what an innocent moon princess, wide-eyed little mermaid, who gave us dance that proved as soothing as a warm bowl of milk.  Renavand’s Kaguyahime on February 7 linked her every movement into the next into the next and the next with the smoothest control and ease.

Her baby-goddess made me think of…a kitten, a filly, a puppy.  One who went out to play, got fascinated by a bit of string, trotted after a butterfly – the entire audience returned her grin when she got hoisted onto those boxes by the villagers – and then found herself lost and too far away from home, naïvely incapable of understanding why a pack of surly hounds started picking on her.

Her encounter with Hervé Moreau’s Mikado [Emperor] really proved the highlight of the evening.  Just looking at him — utterly still but overly alert on his throne then slicing sinuously through those theatrically billowing golden waves of fabric — I could have sworn I heard the supple baritone gravitas of the actor Jeremy Irons’s voice.  Renavand’s juvenile moonkitten found herself face to face with a fully-grown lion.  None of the other Mikados made me so feel the burden of great power and its constraints:  his spine seemed endlessly strong, elongated, yet a stillness in his core indicated that maintaining dignity at all costs took precedence over any hope for true love. When rejected at the end, he didn’t flicker an eyelash. He re-stretched his spine and then, with the grace befitting a son of the Sun, prowled in slow-motion down into the drummers pit with such with silken elegance that none of us could take our eyes off of him.

Agnès Letestu and Vincent Chaillet:

“Our journey had advanced;/ Our feet were almost come/To that odd fork in Being’s road, /Eternity by term.” [Emily Dickinson, “Our journey had advanced”]

When I first got to Paris, some of my random seatmates could grumble about Letestu. Gorgeous, yes, but so self-contained. One of the few nominated as étoile after Nureyev had stuffed that level with spectacular personalities (leaving  most of the next generation to vegetate as “premières danseuses”) she must have felt enormous pressure.  Too many of her interpretations were “in the head” – Giselle’s completely internalized mad scene as inspired by Dustin Hoffmann in “Rainman” springs to mind – but I always thought that if she’s that smart and that conscientious and that potentially delicious, then if one day she lets go of all that and just lets herself be onstage, it will happen. That has now been the case for these last glorious years. Think of the way she sunk her teeth into “Diamonds” by letting herself enjoy the mastery of movement and space she had always possessed, utterly stunning Jean-Guillaume Bart. Remember her magnificently gleeful and relaxed Siren recently in “The Prodigal Son.”

Is that why I found the moon on February 8 closest to being an absolute goddess, the live embodiment of a star.  Such women, like the self-contained Garbo, paid dearly for the freedom to just be themselves.  Letestu has let go of all the tiny voices and knives around her, but perhaps used the memory of all that to shape her poignant persona in this role. Her Kaguyahime also resembles Kylían himself: a deeply melancholy and intelligent man, quite disabused about life and others, yet generous, thoughtful, and full of a desire to connect with the audience.  Like Kylian, and the gods, Letestu held out a hand to us from the moment she stepped onto that platform and began to perform her first measured and tentative steps.  She radiated trust in herself…and trust in our capacity to follow her on her journey.

Vincent Chaillet’s manly Mikado could not hope to hold onto such a philosopher-queen. He was (quite!) appealing, but this incarnation of the moon recognized the power of her own innate sadness.  She made us feel that she had always known that daylight would be too bright for her to endure for long.

Renavand’s final steps homewards made me sad for the adventure she felt forced to abandon. She had no choice.  Letestu’s made me glad: all evening, she had made each of her choices with integrity and lucid honesty. And she had said all she wanted to say. When Gillot finally turned her back on us, the feeling became bittersweet.

Marie-Agnès Gillot with Alexis Renaud:

“Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell.” [Emily Dickinson, “Parting”]  

Her interpretation benefitted most from the change of venue to the more cozy and intimate venue of the Palais Garnier.

She’s a complicated dancer.  Ballet is crueler than the modeling world and, as a woman of height, thin but with the gorgeous shoulder-blades of a swimmer, I am certain she’s had this fact drilled into her:  you can be cast as a queen (Swan or Wili) but abandon hope for ingénue or princess.  When in fact she’s allowed to play soft and feminine roles, she can astonish us:  her first act Paquita on one night about ten years ago should have served as the model to others of how to dance fleet of foot and light of heart.  Her petit allegro made you forget that it’s quite hard for big dancers to move fast.  She made herself weightless.

Back at the Bastille, Gillot’s performance of Kaguyahime two years ago suffered from a need to project into that big barn of a house. This brought out a necessarily ingrained discomfort about being “too big.”  So her interpretation back then struck me as a bit marmoreal, monumental, too dour.  She put none of the finesse and delicacy that she possesses to use.

When she appeared on stage on February 14th, my eye (from the top of the Garnier) found itself drawn to…her hands, suddenly tapered and filled with a febrile energy that seemed to shine out from the tips of her fingers.  (I hadn’t seen that from much closer two years ago).  These little/big hands began to tell a story:  “at home, I have the loooongest fingers, but here I stretch and stretch and they still feel so stubby. What’s going on?”  This alien from the moon vividly expressed disconnect:  her movements constantly exhibited darting moments of tension, as if she kept wanting to find the way back to moving the way she used to when she had been happy and free up in the sky.  Of all our three moons, she most illustrated how walking on earth — being bound by gravity, assaulted by our filthy and exhausting air — challenged her.  Not at all that she couldn’t do the steps or looked like a big lump – the “floor-barre” solo in Act II left no doubt as to each ballerina’s masterful, even superhuman, muscular control – but even near the end she continued exploring how to shape each movement against the tethers of the earth and that engaged my sympathy.

Pairing her with Alexis Renaud’s Emperor – diffident, less assertive than the others – inverted the dynamic of Renavand/Moreau.  Renaud needed the aid of those two henchmen to subdue her, and he knew it.  But by being softer, he allowed Gillot to become the only one of our moons to really hesitate about returning to the sky.  Each time she turned back towards us at the end, you could feel her dilemma:  “maybe I’m wrong, maybe happiness really does exist in your world?”

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