Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was in exile when he penned this most beloved of books, driven from his native country by war, and distraught with what the world of 1942 was becoming. Since its publication, countless millions of people have read it in hundreds of different languages and found there profound and intimate truths expressed simply and sublimely.
Last night I saw David Dawson’s new ballet, Citizen Nowhere, which is based on Saint-Exupéry’s immortal classic, at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet Theatre performance of Made in Amsterdam 2. As I watched, I felt that I was seeing a darker, more mysterious, but also more exuberantly joyful reflection of the book than I had experienced reading as a child or young adult. Perhaps I am due a rereading now, in search of what Dawson has captured in this most extraordinary choreographic riff on what for many of us is a familiar, beloved friend.
When I first heard of the ballet, the title immediately conjured Theresa May’s chilling statement, “If you believe yourself to be a global citizen, then you are a citizen of nowhere.” Those words were, I think, felt as a nightmare to all of us who have eagerly taken the phrase “global citizen” as our own, to describe a feeling of connectedness to people everywhere, as well as perhaps to cast a wry wink in the direction of our own nomadic tendencies. Watching Edo Wijnen alone on the stage, expressing the fullness of life in eloquent silence, I was also reminded of the lonely modern predicaments of statelessness and extended refugee status, which diminish the opportunities but never the humanity of those who live out their existence within them.
For those who are homeless due to the vagaries of history or war or international politics, for those who have departed from one homeland by choice and perhaps found another home elsewhere, for all of us who have left a rose behind or who feel the pull of another star, Citizen Nowhere is an anthem of sorts. It is an affirmation that love, though invisible to the eye, is real. That friendship can be found in the most unexpected of places. That fear can paralyze, but our response to it can liberate and take us far beyond the confines of the worldview into which we were born.
In The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry has given us one of the tenderest, most whimsical and yet melancholy descriptions of the beauty-tinged sense of loss and homesickness that is Hiraeth: “If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers…” Citizen Nowhere is Hiraeth made visible, and expressed in all its yearning splendour as an inextricable and essential part of the human condition.
You can read a beautiful interview with choreographer David Dawson about the ballet done for Icon Magazine. Citizen Nowhere premiered in Amsterdam in 2017. It returns in 2019 as a double-billing with Requiem, a new ballet also choreographed by Dawson. See it from February 9 through March 1 at the Opera Ballet in Amsterdam.
Photos by Jack Devant. Photos and video used by permission of Het Nationale Ballet.