Tuesday, January 11, 2011

happy endings

now this is a great honest way to wrap up a novel, i say...
"But, truthfully, these glorious pauses do, sometimes, occur in the discordant but complementary narratives of our lives and if you choose to stop the story there, at such a pause, and refuse to take it any further, then you can call it a happy ending."
from the last pages of Angela Carter's fabulous (and tragically, last) novel, Wise Children

(cover illustration by Roxanna Bikadoroff)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

the riotous Theatre des Champs-Elysees

went out last night into rainy Paris to see Robert Lepage's Eonnagata...the show was very flawed, but it was a wonderful excuse to visit the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, built by one of my favourite French architects, the often-radical August Perret.

in 1913, his newly-opened theatre was the site of one of the more interesting riots in Parisian history...because this is where Stravinsky's Rites of Spring was first performed.

Stravinsky's music was booed, and Nijinsky's choreography infuriated the crowd--one elderly Duchess apparently thought the whole thing was some kind of hoax. (here's a great description) But the producer, Diaghilev, was serene... Stravinsky later wrote:
"After the 'performance' we were excited, angry, disgusted, and . . . happy. I went with Diaghilev and Nijinsky to a restaurant... Diaghilev's only comment was 'Exactly what I wanted.' He certainly looked contented. No one could have been quicker to understand the publicity value, and he immediately understood the good thing that had happened in that respect. Quite probably he had already thought about the possibility of such a scandal when I first played him the score, months before, in the east corner ground room of the Grand Hotel in Venice.”

for a great recreation of this moment, there's the film 'Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky' --check out the first 27 seconds of this promo video, below (and then go see the movie! it's gorgeous.)

last night, it was a thrill to look down from my seat in the gods, to see the old fauteuils--because this theatre has small armchairs on its main floor, not fixed theatre seats. And whenever my interest in Lepage's performance waned, i thought about Josephine Baker, who made her premiere here with the Revue Negre in 1925. Baker took Paris by storm, from this very stage. showered with jewelry & marriage proposals after every performance. she wryly said, "Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest...beautiful, no. Amusing, yes."
interesting quote--because watching the few remaining early clips of her Revue dances, what's really surprising is her great comedic timing. she's a real live wire on stage--making crazy faces, laughing at herself, goofing around--and yes, dancing & singing. no wonder Paris was amazed.

so, yes, Eonnagata was disappointing (Lepage was interesting on stage, as were the two dancers, but the overall concept just didn't work. everyone seemed under-utilized, the movements were predictable, and even the late Alexander McQueen's costumes were dull), BUT i still had a great evening thinking about performance & art. maybe part of the point of performance is to risk failure--or at least, to risk being ridiculous, at least some of the time.