Egon Madsen 75: A dance evening for a legend

Theaterhaus, Stuttgart
May 25, 2018

Maggie Foyer

If there was a heatseeking missile hovering over Stuttgart this weekend, it would have honed in on a Theaterhaus that positively glowed with warmth as a packed house celebrated Egon Madsen’s life in dance. True to form, the man was not sitting comfortably in the audience but sharing the stage with colleagues from earlier years as well as the young dancers of Gautier Dance, in an unforgettable performance.

Mauro Bigonzetti’s Cantata opened the programme. It’s the sort of dance that celebrates life, dance that is raw and real and performed by cultures across the globe and across the centuries. Bigonzetti strips away all pretensions and gets to the heart of the matter with movements to match the rhythms of Gruppo Musicale Assurd, four women with powerful voices and a few instruments who create and develop the traditional music of southern Italy. The dance carries a sexual power, reminiscent of Italian neo-realist films like Riso Amaro: the women, hair flailing, are bold and free, the men predatory and passionate. Bigonzetti’s choreography gives them free reign with exquisite detail in a twisted foot or hands that claw and stretch. Madsen, with magnificent mane of white hair is completely at home, flirting, dancing and sharing in the warmth of the community.

Eric Gauthier and Egon Madsen in Christian Spuck's Don QPhoto Holger Reuker
Eric Gauthier and Egon Madsen in Christian Spuck’s Don Q
Photo Holger Reuker

The second half of the programme played through as Greyhound, the piece Madsen had devised on the NDT3 model, cleverly morphs into Don Q the dancers helping dress the stage during the overture. Bridging the scene change, multi-talented Eric Gauthier steps in providing with his guitar and song the link to 7557, choreographed for Madsen (75) by friend and colleague, Bigonzetti (57).

The excerpts from Greyhound, devised by Madsen, had a stellar cast: the delicious Marianne Kruuse, Julia Krämer and Thomas Lempertz plus Madsen in a slice-of-life dance drama where chairs and hats discover their potent comic potential. The mood is bittersweet and the performances were never less than tremendous.

Don Q was presented in a specially curated version by choreographer Christian Spuck. Originally premiered in 2007 with Egon Madsen and Eric Gauthier, director of the newly formed Gautier Dance, it offered Madsen a major performing role. It’s a sharply focused study of two men: different ages, different personalities in an environment of household detritus. The competitive spirit is evident as Gauthier, lithe and athletic, confronts Madsen’s wisdom and cunning. The balance is perfect as the pair share their daily routine and toss a few teabags just for the hell of it. Spuck offsets light and shade and moments of truth with high comedy, in a beautifully paced work filled with fine detail and plenty of heart.

Egon MadsenPhoto Simon Wachter
Egon Madsen
Photo Simon Wachter

The final piece, 7557, is a unique piece of choreography tailored to capture the legend at this special moment in time. In 1961 Egon Madsen joined Stuttgart Ballet where he carved a brilliant career notably as the ‘E’ in the luminary quartet, Initials R.B.M.E. He later turned his talents to directing and mentoring but was never more than a whisker away from centre stage. In his body, still so full of expression, he carries decades of living dance history, a treasure trove of performance experience and a wealth of living. Bigonzetti has structured the work to allow us glimpses into the artist’s soul. His touching moment of rest curled under a table his head cushioned on a carefully shaped pile of feathers and poignantly using the cloth labelled ‘75’ as an inadequate blanket. His expressive hands and face, alive to every nuance of feeling, held the audience enthralled until the curtain fell on his final bow. However, retirement is not on the cards as Theaterhaus sees The Return of Don Q in November.