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Tanztheater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch

September 29, 2017
pina bausch rite of spring_credit Alexandra Campeau

The Rite of Spring, photograph by Alexandra Campeau

The Rite of Spring / Café Müller

Reviewed September 28, 2017                        

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances September 29 & 30, 8 p.m.)

It’s rare that a work of modern dance created more than 40 years ago would be of much interest to audiences today, unless they were students of dance history. But the late Pina Bausch was a special kind of creative genius and her Rite of Spring, created in 1975, is still a crowd pleaser today, bringing Ottawa’s dance aficionados to their feet for several minutes of applause Thursday.

The Rite of Spring is a special dance work, nevertheless. Causing the most famous scandal in the art world when it emerged in 1913, Vaslav Nijinsky’s original work, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and accompanied by composer Igor Stravinsky, was looking to shock sophisticated Parisians.

Of the more than a hundred choreographers who have interpreted this work since, Pina Bausch’s version certainly stands out. The German choreographer, known for her life-changing theatre, uses the full orchestral version of Stravinsky’s score to create a dramatic and passionate narrative of choosing a victim to die in a sacrificial ritual.

Dance student Johanna Morris, who studied Bausch’s version of The Rite of Spring, writes of the work, “The violence and fear perpetuated within her choreography resonates in all of us. Nature, then, represents not only a rebirth and rejuvenation of the earth, but becomes an entity in its own right. It is in a constant flux of life and death—it must kill itself in the winter in order to be reborn in the spring. This idea is reflected in society and in the ritual of The Rite of Spring.”

It’s impressive enough to watch the crew cover the entire stage with dirt before the work begins. Wheeling great barrels of earth onto the stage during the intermission, a veritable squad of rakers and sweepers set to work. By the end of the performance, the 30 dancers are drenched in sweat and soil.

The work itself is powerful beyond belief. The combination of Stravinsky’s revolutionary composition, performed by the NAC Orchestra, and the sheer number of dancers kicking up the dirt on stage is riveting.

The movement is earthy and animalistic, sensual and impulsive. It’s also very ritualistic and keeps strict time with the insistent, pulsating and dissonant rhythms of Stravinsky, so that it becomes an all-inclusive pensive piece of theatre.

The bare-chested men are clad in black pants, creating a meaningful contrast to the graceful women in flimsy white slips and the chosen one who wears the symbolic red dress.

Since Bausch died in 2009, nearly half the company are new dancers who never knew the iconic choreographer. And a few artistic directors later, Adolphe Binder, formerly of the Berlin Ballet, has taken over the reins with plans to keep Bausch’s signature works alive.

Café Müller is another classic Pina Bausch work likely to remain in the repertory. Created in 1978, it often runs aside The Rite of Spring. Personally, I don’t think it will age as well as the latter, but it’s a piece Bausch performed in herself well into her sixties.

On the stage strewn with black café tables and chairs, reflective walls and a revolving door, half a dozen dancers perform repetitive movement sequences, sometimes sped up or slowed down, at times with a minor change introduced. The sense of the piece is an inability to escape small ingrained behavioral habits.

However Bausch’s works hit you, it’s always worth seeing a performance by this prodigious artist and her Rite of Spring is not to be missed at any rate.



From → Contemporary

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