Repertoire / Don Juan, or Moliere Passions

A ballet by Boris Eifman
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz
Sets and costumes: Vyacheslav Okunev

Premiere: May 11, 2001

Boris Eifman is a philosopher-choreographer. His is preoccupied with the problems of modernity, with mysteries of creativity and the magic of genius; these views and reflections of him are revealed in Eifman’s interpretations of the lives of Piotr Tchaikovsky, Jean-Batiste Moliere and ballerina Olga Spessivtseva. Making deep insights into the dark and mysterious sphere of human psycho, Boris Eifman offers us his specimen of ballet psychoanalysis. He strives to show a man in his extreme states of mind and soul believing that his heroes’ madness is not a malady but a unique ability to contact other worlds. This helps the choreographer push the limits of his own imagination by way of depicting the fancies of his heroes, and extend his intuition to the most burning spiritual and philosophical issues of the life of humankind.

“At the heart of our ballet lies the tragic contrast between J.-B. Mollier’s personal drama and the life of his hero Don Juan, full of adventures, of whom the famous French comedian is writing one of his best theatrical pieces. And how different are the destinies of the author and his creation…

Central in the life of Moliere is his work as a playwright, exhaustive as it is, and his theatre with the day by day uphill struggle to gain spectators’ interest. The tragic life of Moliere and all his sufferings are contained in his creative work. The latter is a reflection of his life, the sublimation of his personal experiences; here the fancy and reality are intertwined. But, despite all the tragedy of his life, Moliere views himself and all that is going on around with humour. He is a life philosopher able to speak with a humorous undertone of the imperfections of human nature and of the most dramatic collisions of life and the historical period he lives in.

His whole life was a constant struggle: the bitter competition with other theatres, his weak health and constant physical pain despite which he continued to work and write. So his death was his best theater performance…

He made his young wife Armanda a great actress. But she did not love him: she only accepted his affection. Armanda brought much additional suffering to his life. But what is a real tragedy for a creator? Great suffering makes great artists.

Moliere’s hero Don Juan, like his famous creator, seems to be constantly searching for an ideal. Still, Don Juan has something really diabolic about him, sort of lust for destruction. He has come to this world not so much for searching for an ideal woman beauty as for testing God’s world to its limit. Don Juan is striving to bring down the world order. For him nothing is holy enough; his role goes far beyond a mere seduction of women, he tries to seduce the whole universe. Finally and inevitably his defiance turns against him: he receives the Divine retribution. Our ballet speaks of a paradoxical destiny of an artist, where sufferings interlace with the joy of creation, beads of sweat water flowers, and the ruthless Theatre Stage is as always greedy for blood – the price that has to be paid for a gift of creating the eternal…”

Boris Eifman

Introduction

...My dearest Sirs!
The suffering is over, and I am finally dead.
The funeral was just as troublesome as my life itself.

For some time, there wasn't even space for me at the cemetery – alas! Actor's work had always been despised by the commoners and persecuted by the Church. But, his Majesty, the King, had spoken, and my body that had been tortured by doctors for so long was finally given to the Earth.

The play is finished, the performance is over, the curtain is down, and the funeral candles are burning.

My birth name is Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. My father was an upholsterer and dreamed that his son would succeed him in this respectable occupation. But I became known as Jean-Baptiste Moliere, the Director of the Royal troupe at the Palais Royale, the writer of comedies, and the actor.

Oh, yes... It was not easy to achieve success on theater stages during the reign of the glorious King, Ludovic XIV. He would often show me his benevolence, but at times he would forget about my existence – which, sadly, would also happen to coincide with the times of persecution. Our family of actors certainly had our share of wandering across the roads of France in broken-down wagons. We performed wherever we could before we finally settled down in Paris.

But there was always Madeleine at my side – my Madeleine, a beautiful woman and a stunning actress. Despite everything, she had always remained a loyal friend and lent her support in all of my life's trials - that is, in all, but one, when I wanted to marry her daughter, Armande. This marriage broke poor Madeleine's heart, and, frankly, did not bring me happiness, either. What can be more ridiculous than a frail, jealous husband who has to endure the love affairs of a young, flirtatious wife? With pain in my heart, I watched my beloved lady who I myself had made an actress become a stranger. And when I came across the old Spanish story about the love affairs of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan, I realized that I had to create a new play. And what a difficult task it proved to be! Heartlessly and brazenly, Don Juan broke all laws of Earth and Heaven. I envied and enjoyed his victories, and at times, I – his creator! – was frightened by him. At those times, I wished that true love would transform his soul, and that on the threshold of eternity he would meet that one, the only one who he loved...

Yet how similar we were! We both loved women and fame, although my highest passion was His Majesty The Theater - my joy and my pain, my life and my death.

It is the heroes of my amusing and a little melancholic plays, which made you laugh and cry, who made me now invisibly present with you in the audience.

And death stands helpless before your loud and infectious laughter.

Respectfully yours,
As Always,
Jean-Baptiste Moliere

Act I

Squeaking sounds of a writing feather fill the room as Moliere is composing his new play. The artist's imagination creates an image of a Spanish nobleman, who is seductive and audacious. His name is Don Juan.

The prayerful silence of a convent does not stop Don Juan in his plans to infiltrate the monastery under the guise of a humble novice, despite the protests of his servant, Sganarelle. The odd new nun brings a strange new feeling of confusion into the souls of the convent's sisters. Don Juan's main objective, however, is the Beautiful Elvira. And how much passion he discovers in the monastic recluse!

The dilapidated armchair, the warmth of a moth-ridden throw, and the comfort Madeleine's embrace all bring moments of peace to Moliere; but his head is constantly teeming with characters of new plays. He holds the Theater in his firm grip - his mere gesture can turn an actor into a feeble oldster courting a young coquette, a wave of his cane can compel an ardent musketeer to begin a duel to win her affection. It is amusing; yet, at the same time, the actors' helplessness infuriates Moliere. And only Madeleine is capable of soothing his temper. His anger is gone, and Moliere is filled again with the desire to create. Armande, Madeleine's young daughter, is playing an interesting role in his new play. Moliere dreams of making a great actress out of Armande, but the girl is too restless, and Madeleine takes her precocious daughter away. Strange, but how beautiful this child is!

In the midst of a Spanish village, the coarse flirting of peasant women brings variety, into Don Juan's never-ending escapades. What peasant girl does not dream of marrying a nobleman? Don Juan easily promises to marry two of them, especially since Sganarelle proves capable of handling the temporary duties of a “priest”.

Moliere is bewildered. How can the actors be so talentless? He is ready to play every role himself – Don Juan, peasant, Sganarelle... But the play must be finished in time. His theater needs a new show.

Don Juan's deception is discovered, and he quickly elopes, while the entire village's wrath falls on poor Sganarelle. But furious peasant women are not alone in pursuing the seducer. Elvira has left the convent and is also searching for the masked stranger. Meanwhile, Don Juan conjures up another ploy. Gold coins help convince the beat-up Sganarelle to play the role of his master, and the newly made “servant” finds himself in Elvira's passionate embrace. The mask of Don Juan captures every woman's heart and cruelly breaks it.

The cruel tempter challenges Heaven itself, and now the watchful eye of the inquisition follows him everywhere. Don Juan laughs at it, but Moliere is frightened by the chimeras of the real life. He is tragically alone in the phantom world of masks from past and present. Only Armande's eyes give him an illusion of happiness; and even Madeleine's despair cannot stop the clownish wedding procession.

 

Act II

Outnumbered by robbers, officers are losing the fight. Their commandant is ready to die while defending the life and the honor of his wife, Donna Anna. Don Juan's courage saves their lives. The grateful eyes of the beautiful Donna Anna awaken a new passion in the soul of the interminable seducer.

There is a ball at the commandant's palace. One of the guests, whose face is covered by a mask, does not take his eyes off Donna Anna. His passionate kiss burns her hand. The commandant stops the insolent stranger, but is struck with his own knife. The mask is torn off, and the mysterious murderer is Don Juan!

The new play is difficult to write. Don Juan's countless victories rid him of the sensation of love; nothing affects his soul. Moliere envies his hero's ability to conquer women, yet stay free of their charms. In real life, everything is different. Armande is flighty and capricious. Moliere is tortured by insane jealousy, yet does not have the power to change anything. Only the faithful Madeleine can calm the weathered soul and carefully cover his tired body with a warm throw. Moliere has visions, in which he gives his heart that knows how to love and how to suffer to the cold Don Juan.

Donna Anna clenches a knife. She will avenge the murder of her husband. Yet Don Juan's demonic passion rids Donna Anna of her determination. He is close to victory... but faithful Donna Anna does not give in to temptation, and the knife's blade ends her life. Don Juan had never experienced such pain before.

Moliere's handwriting fiercely fills the paper. The play is nearing its end. Meanwhile, Armande shines in the center of a cheerful party, basking in the passionate gazes of men, whose touch she craves. That is something that the boring Moliere, who constantly writes, cannot give to her.

Sganarelle is desperately trying to awaken his master's taste for life, while even flirting beauties do not bring joy to Don Juan's eyes. The vision of a beautiful Lady appears, and Don Juan plunges after her into eternity.

The daring new play is banned. Moliere is deathly sick. The Theater is in turmoil. But nothing overpowers the desire to create – and the heroes of new plays demand their realization. Laughter is the only salvation – the laughter over deceit and stupidity, over greed and evil. Laugh, laugh, laugh even over my death, dear Sirs!