A startling re-creation of Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring in Los Angeles

United StatesUnited States Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring and Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo’s common ground[s]: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 11.2.2024. (JRo)

Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring © Maarten Vanden Abeele

common ground[s]

Co-Choreographers and Dancers – Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo
Composer – Fabrice Bouillon LaForest
Costumes – Petra Leidner
Lighting – Zeynep Kepekli
Dramaturg – Sophiatou Kossoko

The Rite of Spring
Choreographer – Pina Bausch
Composer – Igor Stravinsky
Sets and Costumes – Rolf Borzik
Collaboration – Hans Pop
Restaging artistic directors – Josephine Ann Endicott, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Clémentine Deluy
Rehearsal directors – Çağdaş Ermiş, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Barbara Kaufmann, Julie Shanahan, Kenji Takagi

A Pina Bausch Foundation, École des Sables & Sadler’s Wells production

Myth, religion, ritual and folklore thundered onto the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a startling re-creation of Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring. More than 30 dancers from 13 African countries were selected in rigorous auditions to appear in this unprecedented staging of Bausch’s seminal work.

Like Nijinsky’s original version done in collaboration with Igor Stravinsky and designer Nikolai Roerich, Bausch’s Rite rips its audience out of complacency, demanding more from the viewer than polite passivity. The 1913 original outraged its audience, and with its theatrical, mystical and folkloric sets and costumes, it remains a powerful and timeless ballet. In our day, the rawness of Bausch’s 1975 Rite, danced on a peat-covered, darkened stage, assaults a modern audience with the gut-wrenching materiality of death.

As restaged by Josephine Ann Endicott, Jorge Puerta Armenta and Clémentine Deluy, the dancers grip you and never let go for a full 35 minutes. This speaks to the genius of Bausch, who was able to create a work of art that gains in intensity and universality when performed by dancers with different training from different countries. Her Rite has such inherent power and relies so much on what the individual brings to the choreography that this staging was as unique as it must have been at the 1975 premiere.

The question Bausch asked of herself and her dancers when creating the work was: ‘How would you dance if you knew you were going to die?’ At the 11 February performance, this was answered through the powerful dancing of the cast of ‘young girls’ and, more specifically, by the Chosen One, performed with extraordinary depth by Khadija Cisse from Senegal. The girls, dressed in beige silk slips, passed around a swath of red fabric (a red silk slip), which they were simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by. In the final section, the Chosen One was draped in the dress, and Cisse registered shock, disbelief, rebellion and resignation all within her quaking body.

When talking about the dance versions of The Rite of Spring, whether by Nijinsky, Massine, MacMillan, Béjart or Bausch, Stravinsky’s music, as modern today as it was in 1913, is the foundation for whatever is articulated on the stage. It is as if the music itself is the choreography, so all-encompassing is the score. It would have been sublime to hear an orchestra accompany the dancers, but in this case it was a 1947 recording of the Cleveland Orchestra with Pierre Boulez conducting. Regardless, the experience was total and the dancers’ commitment to the music and choreography absolute.

Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring © Maarten Vanden Abeele

Contributing to the experience was the peat-covered stage. Inches deep, it blanketed the entire surface. As the dancers moved, so did the peat, and when the men streamed on stage, extending their legs in sweeping kicks, the peat swirled upward, emitting the primal smell of damp earth. The dance moved inexorably towards the selection of the sacrificial maiden, and the earthen smell suggested to me the smell of fear.

Bausch’s emergence as a choreographer in the 1960s and 1970s and the minimalist settings of her dances coincided with the visual art movements of the time. The peat-covered stage of The Rite of Spring has much in common with Walter de Maria’s ‘Earth Room’, first installed in Munich in 1968 before its other iterations. Perhaps the choreographer saw it in Munich or in Darmstadt in 1974 before it landed in NYC in 1977. The originality of her dances is certainly reflective of her wider interest in visual and performance art, which is used to dazzling effect in this production. By the time the victim is ultimately chosen, the dancers’ faces, limbs and clothes are blackened with peat, adding to the visceral nature of the performance.

Paired with Rite was a new piece, common ground[s], co-choreographed and danced by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo. The former is the co-founder of the Ecole des Sables in Senegal, a center for the teaching and development of traditional and contemporary African dance; the latter danced with Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. They were an imposing pair, whether in the expression of grief or in the light-heartedness of women bonding over shared experience. It was more of a theatrical miniature than a fully conceived dance, but it proved a tender opening to the riot of bodies and emotion that followed in The Rite of Spring.

That emotion was shared by those of us in the audience, who in a collective outpouring of appreciation for the dancers who brought Pina’s vision to life, rose as one body, applauding thunderously.

Jane Rosenberg  

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