Two Stravinsky Ballets Become One in Fabulous Production

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Stravinsky,  The Rite of Spring & Petrushka: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre/Sadler’s Wells, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / David Brophy (conductor), Sadler’s Wells, London, 11.04.2014 (J.O’D)

Dancers: Milos Galko, Saju Hari, Bernadette Iglich, Zen Jefferson, Anna Kasuba, Saku Koistinen, Alex Leonhartsberger, Louise Mochia, Mikel Murfi, Emmanuel Obeya, Inn-Pang Ooi, Moritz Ostruschnjak, Keir Patrick, Rachel Poirier, Ino Riga, Daniel Riley, Tom Weinberger
Director & Choreographer:    Michael Keegan-Dolan
Designer: Rae Smith
Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman
Costume Designer (Petrushka): Doey Lüthi
Associate Designer:Alyson Cummins


When director and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan and the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre performed The Rite of Spring and Petrushka at Sadler’s Wells a year ago, it was to an arrangement of Stravinsky’s music for piano duo played on the stage by Lidija and Sanja Bizjak. Among several other alterations or revisions, the dancers this time are accompanied, from the orchestra pit by the musicians of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (with Sanja Bizjak at the piano and celeste). The intimacy of a single piano is exchanged for orchestral richness and colour. – so much richness and colour, in fact, that the musicians were even more warmly applauded than the dancers.

The two works are presented in reverse chronological order (first ‘The Rite of Spring’, from 1913; then ‘Petrushka’, from 1911) to form almost a single dance that charts the shift from darkness to light. Michael Keegan-Dolan borrows elements from both works (sacrificial fertility rites, the loneliness of the outcast at a Shrovetide fair), but ‘takes the water to his own mill’, as the Spanish saying has it. In another revision, the evening does not begin with the familiar sound of the haunting bassoon but with a rather sad folk song, sung by a man who crawls out from under the curtain to sing it. The equally surprising appearance of the same man, towards the end, provides a circular structure. His ‘Rite’ involves hare coursing, poisoned cups of tea, male dancers fertilizing the earth then rolling onto their backs for a post-coital cigarette. (Later, they take off their male attire to put on ‘spring-like’ dresses).There are several ‘Chosen Ones’ (though these are always female). An enigmatic figure stalks the stage in the first ballet, and sits perched high up on a pole during the second. Last year, she seemed to refer to Sergei Diaghilev (producer of the original ballets).This year, she looks more like a woman out of Irish legend. In ‘Petrushka’, Colombine and the Moor are only briefly referred to, while Petrushka’s status as ‘mythical outcast’ is shared between the dancers. As the ballet progresses, more and more of them return from the back of the stage with white make up (a sign of their isolation), on their faces.

With a muscular, grounded choreography characterized by turns, twists from the waist, and circling arms, Keegan-Dolan is extremely sensitive to the constant changes of mood and tone in Stravinsky’s music. During their solos in the quieter sections of ‘Petrushka’, it is almost as if movement is being pulled, painfully, from the dancers’ arms and legs. The two pieces are carefully staged so that what happens on the stage always accords with the sound. Adam Silverman’s lighting, once again, makes a striking contribution to the shifts in atmosphere. It flows from warm to cold, and back, and floods a backdrop with yellow to show that spring has arrived. The musicians this year could not line up on the stage with the performers, as Lidija and Sanja Bizjak had done, to take their applause. Instead, the effervescent Keegan-Dolan himself went down on his knees to thank David Brophy, their conductor.

John O’Dwyer

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