Giorgio Madia, an Italian, is a good friend of the Vanemuine who is presenting his directorial output for the third time at the theatre. His ballet La Dolce Vita, which was based on the world of Fellini’s films, was clever and remembered for its vivid sketch-type characters. The second one was the opera Carmen, which was acclaimed for successfully fusing and harmonizing different components. Now it is Don Juan’s turn.
Madia’s telling of the tale of Don Juan is framed by the devil Diavolo, accompanied by violinist, who stands in contrast to the rest of the cast by dint of his dark skin colour alone. The devil is a character who separates the scenes from one another, adds his commentary to or punctuates the scenes. As in La Dolce Vita, Don Juan, too, is structured on integral episodes from the life of the title character, a succession of spotlighted moments, not on a passage down a definite trajectory.
According to the director, the episode-punctuating Diavolo embodies the unfulfilled and fruitless yearning by Don Juan (and other characters as well) for new adventures upon adventures, which ultimately start repeating and turn into their own opposites. Excitement turns into ennui, one woman seems interchangeable with the next, a pas de deux with one lady is no different in substance or nature from a dance with another, erotic pleasure that is limited to the level of bodies becomes exhausted.
The thrill from adventure too, which Madia masterfully introduces in the first scene, where the stage space is like an open mirror (the back wall reflects what is happening on the floor so that we see the head visible there and the characters twirling on the dance floor as if at an angle). The same mirror effect, this time using a real mirror, connects the ends of the ballet: now Diavolo is in the middle of the picture, spawning new “monsters” i.e. fears, passions and destructive fantasies found in humans.
Besides the characters with names, Madia’s production also has unnamed characters in pale clinging costumes, with masks that resemble mini-dildos because of the large nose worn over the loins and grinning masks over the sacrum.
These characters’ choreographic text is subtly erotic (the coarse element is seen in the costume), in which refined poses alternate with piquant movements. It is like the chorus from classical tragedies, which comment, amplify and parody the lead characters’ undertakings, successes and failures.
The named characters, including the title character and his servant Zanni, are overshadowed by the diverse and varied performance of Diavolo and the choir, in spite of the haute-couture-influenced costumes. This may be intentional, as the director says Don Juan’s realness lies in how much imagination the audience brings to bear on animating his character.
The kinetic idiom of the title role and his partners in this choreographic pattern is, in the most conventional sense, a “modern ballet”, full of the form-related techniques that reign triumphant on today’s stages. But Don Juan and his “conquests” cannot be brightly distinctively personal in any case. The servant Zanni, on the other hand, has been imbued with movement based on the commedia dell’arte style, which adds an element of farce to the dramatics of the stage action.
The fact that solely pre-recorded music was used for this production demonstrates the position of ballet in a musical theatre that employs its own orchestra. Why couldn’t operas and musicals, too – accompanied by a recording – be performed and brought into focus by an orchestra that does not completely justify its role?
In this manner, Vanemuine’s Don Juan reflects, on many levels, the trap that contemporary dance theatre is stuck in: on one hand, the unbridgeable gap between the once inseparable partners music and dancer; on the other hand the bold and colourful theatricality of the production emphasizes the characterlessness of postmodern “naturalism” and “simplicity”.