United Kingdom Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring & Petrushka: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in collaboration with Sadlers Wells, Lidija Bizjak and Sanja Bizjak (piano), Sadler’s Wells, London, 12.4.2013 . (JOD)
Director and Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Designer: Rae Smith
Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman
Costume Designer: Doey Lüthi
Co-produced with Movimentos Festwochen der Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Brisbane Festival, Galway Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival
The dancers in Diaghilev’s 1913 production of ‘The Rite of Spring’ wore costumes that evoked the garments of the ancient tribes of Russia. The dancers in Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s version are dressed, to begin with at least, in the drab-coloured clothes of modern-day farmers who are waiting for winter to end: cloth caps, quilted jackets, trousers or A-line skirts. The clothes might be different, but the primitive strains of Stravinsky’s music (arranged here as a piano duet that is played onstage) exert the same force as they must have done on their first audience one hundred years ago. The dancers, who are very soon barefoot and barelegged, stamp their feet and pound the stage as they play out the tension between the group and the individual (first one dancer, then another) chosen to be its sacrificial victim. Ritual death may occur, and the idea of it is especially present when members of the group put on their animal masks, but the strong, firmly-planted bodies of all the dancers have a way of bouncing back. Spring comes, without the rite almost, in the form of floral-print dresses, distributed to both men and women by an enigmatic figure that seems to represent Diaghilev himself. At the end the knives are out, but if the powerful figure at the centre of the stage can’t escape her fate, the curtain falls before she meets it.
This sense of a rejection of the past is felt again at the beginning of Petrushka as the dancers, now dressed in white, gather up their drab clothes and deposit them at the back of the stage. The puppet Petrushka, Nijinsky’s ‘mythical outcast’, is simply the first of the dancers (a woman in broderie anglaise) to smear her face in white makeup. Again, however, identity shifts as the others gradually follow her example. The Diaghilev-figure sits high above the stage, at one point directing, like a puppet-master, the movements of the people below. The energy of the dancers, which seems to have been contained by the ritual aspect of the The Rite of Spring, finds exuberant release here. – not in jumps or leaps (the dancers are always firmly grounded on the stage floor and the impetus for movement comes from the centre of the body), but in the way they turn and spin, swinging themselves around by an extended arm or leg. Differences of dance backgrounds and styles, even differences of ability, seem to come together over the course of the piece in a vortex that sweeps up dancers and audience alike. This is helped by the two pianists, whose playing of Stravinsky’s music is equally energetic, and also by the lighting, which creates sudden and radical shifts in atmosphere that illuminate the evening’s two works both literally and metaphorically. At the end, pianists and dancers held hands in a line at the front of the stage to receive their applause for an ensemble performance that had transmitted its energy – and an unexpected sense of optimism – out into the auditorium.