The Chevalier d’Eon wins a fencing bout.
I’ve known of the cross-dressing Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Thimothée d’Eon de Beaumont—or the Chevalier d’Eon (1728–1810) to give him his title—for some time thanks to a typically witty and informative entry by Philip Core in Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984). The nobleman rubs shoulders there with the equally flamboyant Henry Paget (1875–1905), Fifth Marquess of Anglesey, known as “the Dancing Marquess”, and Romain de Tirtoff, better known as illustrator and designer, Erté, who we see in a photo dressed as “Claire de Lune”. Aside from his status as a historical curio, and a failed attempt by Havelock Ellis to borrow his name to describe transvestism—Eonism, the Chevalier seems less celebrated than he might be. So it’s a pleasure to hear that theatre director Robert Lepage has created a new stage production, Eonnagatta, based on the Chevalier’s colourful life:
For a long time now, the actor and experimental theatre director Robert Lepage has been fascinated by the life of the Chevalier d’Eon, an 18th-century French soldier who had a flamboyant career as a diplomat and secret agent for Louis XV, and spent much of his adult life dressed as a woman. Officially, the Chevalier’s skirts were worn as a professional disguise: his exceptionally fine features allowed him to pass easily for a woman, and thus move around undetected as a spy. But the Chevalier didn’t just do it for the job. He was a genuine cross-dresser, an 18th-century transvestite.
Lepage’s fascination has now led to Eonnagata, a daring collaboration inspired by the life of the Chevalier that gets its British premiere next week. The work has been put together by four very different, and internationally acclaimed, artists: there’s Lepage, the choreographer Russell Maliphant, the dancer Sylvie Guillem and the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. That’s quite a team – and the result is a unique hybrid of their art forms. How would they describe it? Maliphant gives it a go: “It’s not pure dance: it doesn’t have Sylvie doing splits or amazing falls. But it’s not pure theatre, either.” (More.)