Archives de Tag: Kaguyahime

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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KAGUYAHIME : la lune, cette étoile…

KAGUYAHIME, Jiri Kilian-Maki Ishii. Représentation du 8 février 2013.

P1030854Elle est apparue sur l’estrade surélevée, derrière les filins des rampes électriques au balancé géométrique. Elle, c’était la princesse lune, Agnès Letestu. Son long corps désarticulé dans sa gangue scintillante et immaculée semblait mimer un texte en idéogrammes. Jamais jusqu’ici il ne m’était apparu que la danse pouvait être « mouillée », tel un pinceau trempé dans la matière picturale. Et la princesse lune est descendue sur terre, à la fois lointaine dans sa pose de cigogne stylisée mais également étonnamment charnelle, à l’instar de la musique des flûtes du trio de Gagaku qui la caractérise. Et les Hommes l’ont approché, au son des tambours Kodö ; et l’agression a commencé. Allister Madin, s’approchait avec une démarche de chat, Daniel Stokes sautait sur sa cambrure comme frustré par l’impatience ou par l’hiératisme de la princesse. Les tambours – les basses des Kodö et l’acidité de l’ensemble européen – devenaient de plus en plus prégnants. Dans sa quasi immobilité effrayée, Agnès Letestu parvenait à maintenir une impression de balancier. Et c’est comme si les marlous des rizières échouaient parce qu’ils essayaient de saisir son reflet sur l’étendue liquide. Seul le dernier prétendant (Julien Meyzindi) y parvint, sans doute parce qu’il introduisait dans ses pas des positions déférentes d’orant. Durant son bref duo avec la princesse, les tambours se turent d’ailleurs pour laisser la place aux flûtes.

Mais les paysannes sont arrivées et l’atmosphère a changé du tout au tout. Plus question de séduction, mais bien de célébration. La déesse fêtée semblait y prendre du plaisir. Les danses prirent pour la première et la seule fois une coloration orientalisante –d’ailleurs assez indistincte. La déesse reçut l’hommage sans dédaigner de participer à la fête. C’est le moment où la princesse d’Agnès Letestu s’est montrée la plus proche des humains. Et cependant, elle restait comme étrangère à ce monde. Ce qui donnait cette impression de proximité, c’est la juvénilité que la danseuse déployait à ce moment ; ou plutôt une sorte de bienveillance amusée. Elle semblait se conformer à l’ambiance de la fête en cela fidèle à sa condition lunaire : un « astre » qui, après tout, ne fait que refléter la lumière d’un autre.

Les combats qui suivent entre les paysans en blanc et les serviteurs de l’empereur en noir pour la possession de cette idole vivante avaient particulièrement attiré mon attention lors de l’entrée au répertoire de Kaguyahimé, il y a deux ans. Ici, si j’en ai apprécié la force et certaines individualités (Marc Moreau et Madin, Christelle Granier ou Caroline Bance chez les Blancs, Alu, Bertaud, Maxime Thomas ou Myriam Kamionka chez les Noirs), je n’ai jamais été diverti du sujet principal du ballet : la princesse-lune. Dans son solo réflexif au sol, Agnès Letestu fascinait par la plénitude de son mouvement ; un mouvement si plein, si maîtrisé, qu’il semble émaner de son corps une lueur d’énergie qui en dépasse les limites physiques. Les positions les plus improbables comme ces respirations qui se développent en position assise de profil, corps et jambes en l’air et s’agrémentent enfin d’une torsion du buste découvrant le dos de la danseuse au public m’avaient paru chez d’autres purement gymnastiques. Agnès Letestu, elle, offre le mystère d’une danse à la fois abstraite et palpable avec les yeux. L’empereur (Vincent Chaillet, très hiératique sans être aussi impressionnant que Phavorin il y a deux ans dans le même rôle) et ses deux sbires (Mathieu Botto et Aurélien Houette qu’on verrait bien aussi en empereur du soleil levant) la touchaient sans sembler l’atteindre. La princesse-lune était inaccessible à ceux qui l’approchaient sans le respect qui lui était dû. Trompé par sa propre puissance, sa richesse et son or, l’empereur avait beau se prendre pour le soleil, il ne pouvait tromper la déesse même lorsqu’il l’étreignait dans un linceul doré. Il ne la retint pas.

Lorsque, dos au public, à la fois modeste et intense, Agnès-Kaguyahimé a remonté la pente de scène à petits pas mesurés, je n’ai pu m’empêcher de penser : « la lune est une étoile ».


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An unbiased plot summary of KAGUYAHIME

“Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” (The Song of Solomon)

Kaguyahime, NDTI 1991, Photo Roger-Viollet

Kaguyahime, NDTI 1991, Photo Roger-Viollet

The word “surreal” nestles between “surprise” and “surrender” in most dictionaries.

1) “Having the intense irrational reality of a dream;”

2) “to strike with wonder or amazement esp. because unexpected (as noun)/ an attack made without warning (verb);”

3) “the action of yielding one’s person…into the power of another” (Websters’s Dictionary)

 All prove unexpectedly useful when trying to think about what happened in, and your reactions to, this most unusual and practically indescribable ballet.

Maki Ishii’s score gives us the live collaboration of Western percussionists with Japanese experts of Kodo and Gagaku. Jirí Kylián, inspired by the music, uses one of the first recorded stories in Japanese literature, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, to frame the action on stage.  Yet there is nothing “Japanese-y” about the staging, the choreography, the over-all message. This piece embodies a universal lament:  since the beginning of time men continue to blame women for arousing their own testosterone-driven impulses to commit violence.

ACT I  [40 minutes]

She, Kaguyahime the goddess of the moon, slowly prepares to descend to earth.  There she intends to walk carefully through its bamboo forests. Some part of her hesitates to encounter the earth’s fearsome aliens: us humans, but curiosity consumes her. She tests the ground with her feet gently – for her as weird a sensation as walking on the moon for us.

The music will illustrate this contrast between the celestial and the earthy throughout. The hypnotic rustle of the Gagaku winds, made of bamboo, belong to Kaguyahime’s world.  Harmonious and refined, Gagaku has provided the exquisite soundtrack to imperial court ceremonies for over a thousand years.  Buoyant and vigorous, Kodo drums are the sound of village festivities, they celebrate us in all our primal human power. Indeed, this is one piece where you may be excused for leaning forward to look into the orchestra pit:  the magnificent drummers seem to be dancing themselves.

Men in white, the “suitors” from the village, steal in and push around boxes (the symbolism escapes me). Each vies for her attention by dancing a solo of increasing intensity. Soon it becomes clear that they all wish to seduce her.  The last one actually manages to touch her, but cannot hold on to her. She manages to keep eluding his grasp.

The ground cleaves open to create a living sea of red colors.  The women of this village take over the stage and dance in a wild and jumpy way, pulling the men back into their orbit. Boxes are pushed around, opened and shut (the symbolism escapes me).  Kaguyahime finds herself literally hoisted onto a pedestal. But do they wish to celebrate or isolate her?

When conflict begins, we should not be surprised.  Those in black are the Mikado’s (Emperor’s) minions  — call them knights or nobles or…just…more… men.  This is not class struggle, however, for they fight about only one thing:  a woman.

The goddess of the moon is bewildered and sad. Why such a mess?  How could this be her fault?

O! Withered is the garland of the war,/The soldier’s pole is fallen; young boys and girls/Are level now with men; the odds is gone,/And there is nothing left remarkable/Beneath the visiting moon.” [Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act IV]

Intermission [20 minutes]

ACT II  [30 minutes]

            Very violent drumming. One musician almost bashes in the face of a drum shaped like “the man on the moon.” The noise could even remind you of helicopters, the sound associated with combat. A local dispute has escalated into a major war where even women join the battle. Trapped by the competitive violence her beauty has evoked, Kaguyahime – as hapless as Helen of Troy – lets herself be pulled to and fro by a boy, a couple…

The gentle moon goddess tries to cover her ears, to hide, increasingly fearful of what she has wrought merely by having shown her shimmering self to us.

The stage is invaded by a billowing golden curtain. Our goddess finds herself engulfed in the manipulative and more than intoxicating embrace of the Emperor.  At first he seems quite the boor, stomping in with his two henchmen, but something about him fascinates her. She gets pushed and pulled in a tortured quartet and then abruptly finds herself alone. Perhaps, her solo suggests, the emperor – of all these men – has touched her heart? Could he possibly be more than a mere man? Perhaps slightly divine?

More wild drumming than you could ever imagine.  The army returns. The moon goddess suffers being beset by shields, mirrors, blocks: has the Emperor arranged all this new confusion?  He wants her.  And she wants him too, as becomes clear in a tense and too short duet(I lament how little stage-time Kylián allots the Emperor).

But this proves a most intelligent goddess.  Frightened by the awful covetousness of humans, their endless capacity for jealousy and their easy willingness to kill each other over all unimportant things, Kaguyahime decides to leave this planet.

She summons the brightest light. After the Emperor leaves her be –  descending as calmly as a sunset — she ascends regretfully back to her home in the sky, so very sorry that we have all disappointed her dreams of life amongst us.

With how sad Steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies!/ How silently, and with how wan a face!/ What! May it be that even in heavenly place/ That busy archer his sharp arrows tries? [Sir Philip Sidney, “Astrophel and Stella.”]

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