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Egon Madsen & Eric Gauthier, The Return of Don Q, Theaterhaus Stuttgart

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A programme in celebration of Egon Madsen´s 75th birthday at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart earlier this year included extracts from Don Q, a piece that Christian Spuck had created for Egon Madsen and Eric Gauthier in 2007. Rehearsing these extracts provided the impetus to revive the full work, now called The Return of Don Q. I saw the performance on Sunday night.

An elderly man (the programme notes call him Egon) and his loyal younger companion/ at times servant (Eric in the programme notes) live in a world of their own, replete with a number of items that bring to mind some of their adventures earlier in life e.g., a cupboard with a small windmill on top, a rocking horse, a clothes rail, a piano, a number of boxes, plus a bicycle, a table and two chairs.

Eric is asleep leaning against the piano at the side of the stage. Egon lies on the floor towards the back of the stage and dreams of Dulcinea. The day starts, and Eric begins to entertain and support Egon. … They pull faces whereby, it seems, each person rings a bell when the other’s face becomes too distorted. … Eric serves tea to Egon, the latter dunks the teabag a few times and throws it away, and with each cup of tea being served, the teabag is thrown away further. … Egon is longing for Dulcinea. The cupboard opens and Dulcinea (this is in fact Eric) in a long pink dress and with long blond hair appears to soothing music. When Egon tries to reach Dulcinea, however, the doors close, and Egon is thus left longing for her (this sequence is repeated later on). … Eric takes the windmill from the top of the cupboard and plays with it on the table. Egon takes his wooden sword and tries to fight the windmill, but to no avail. … They don carnival hats and Egon uses a party horn to have fun. … The funniest part for me was when a small electric windmill criss-crossed the stage and seemed to chase Egon and Eric, and they both reacted with prolonged frenzied panic, until ultimately Egon starts to pursue and fight the electric windmill.

Not all is fun though. … Eric takes the bike and loads Egon’s books and suitcases on top. Egon carries his rocking horse as well as his sword and shield. So they head towards the side of the stage, and are however held back by an invisible barrier, unable to leave the world they live in. … Equally, Egon discovers the blond wig in one of the boxes and realises that what he took to be Dulcinea was in fact just a vision. The day comes to an end an Egon and Eric go back to sleep.

I found this saddened atmosphere which dominated towards the end of the day more moving than many of the funny elements earlier on. I was thinking that the following day and every day thereafter would probably be pretty much the same as the one that was being portrayed. Two people caught up in their rituals, in their rhythm, in their memories - looking back at life and what hasn’t worked out, full of longing for unattained/ lost love -, unable to break out, at times despairing of the situation and of each other, and yet unable to change it and thus continuing to make the best out of it.

The piece comes with some acting, some miming and some dancing in duets and solos (some disco type, some contemporary – the music ranges from Schubert via Minkus and Schnittke to James Brown et al.). Egon Madsen was truly amazing at 75+, he was rolling/ moving along the floor, he was lifting Eric Gauthier, there were some pirouettes, he was climbing a table and jumping back down again, … If I am anywhere near as agile as he is at that age, I won’t be asking for much else in later life.

Some pictures of performances in 2007, 2012 and 2018 as part of a review in the link here https://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.eric-gauthier-und-egon-madsen-tanzen-wieder-don-q-zwei-veteranen-wollen-s-wissen.91521831-5c5b-4a23-9f8c-72f3390c4514.html.


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Thanks for this review. Madsen belongs to that generation of Stuttgart dancers who so captured ballet fans' imaginations when the Stuttgart emerged as a major force in the ballet world --  and he was very much one of my favorite dancers with the company at that time, especially (as will surprise no-one) because of his extraordinary acting ability.  Wonderful to read that he remains "truly amazing at 75+ ..."

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