Presented by Pina Bausch Foundation, École des Sables & Sadler’s Wells
Reviewed 4 March 2022
First staged in 1913, The Rite of Spring has undergone many iterations, both as a stage production and as a standalone orchestral performance. One of the most famous of these has to be Pina Bausch’s 1975 staging of Stravinsky’s masterpiece; a visceral, almost primal response to the music.
However, before diving into the frenetic dissonance and energy of Stravinsky’s score, the performance opens with something much calmer. Aptly titled common ground(s), this piece is a beautiful coming together of experienced choreographers Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, both now in their 70s. This peaceful, thoughtful piece begins with a slow sunrise, gradually revealing the two women holding a long wooden pole between them. They move through a series of embraces, gradually moving into their own solos before coming together, their movements their own yet also in harmony. While there may be many interpretations of this, I personally felt a strong sense of unity throughout this work; the women were individuals with different backgrounds, but they recognised themselves mirrored in each other and saw and empathised with each other’s journey and the joys and pains felt along the way. It truly was an honour to see these two goddesses of modern dance moving together in such a beautiful work.
common ground(s) was certainly the calm before the storm. The crew spent the interval between works spreading soil across the stage in preparation for The Rite of Spring, earning their own applause for their tireless efforts. A shout out must go to the crew for all their work, not only putting the soil on the stage in the first place, but for the inevitable cleanup they must have had to do after each performance.
This rendition of Pina Bausch’s staging is significant as it’s the first time it has been performed by dancers based in African countries. The story, such as it is, follows similar themes to the original, with pagan rituals culminating in the “chosen one” dancing to her death.
The piece begins with a tight spot on a figure lying on a red cloth on the earth, who gradually moves and rises to her feet, joining others as they dance in individual movements and then in unison. The red cloth, which is later revealed to be a dress, seems to be a symbol of death or possibly sacrifice. It is a significant part of this work, being the only bold splash of colour on the stage, standing out against the neutral-toned shift dresses of the women and loose black pants of the men, as well as the dark soil spread across the stage. Over the course of the dance, this red cloth is passed around, thrown to the ground and seems to be a source of fear and unease among the players. Finally, the dress is worn by the “chosen one” as she is dragged unwilling around the stage in an uncomfortably relentless way before being forced to dance to her death. The soloist is incredible, showing agility, incredible stamina and pure commitment to the climax of this work.
The way the choreography harmonises with the music is stunning, like a pure visual representation of the music in all of its rises and falls, the frantic and raw emotion, and its dissonance and consonance. It was almost as though someone pulled back a curtain to show what the music really looked like underneath.
The dancers are a tight unit, showing a synchronisation and unity to their movements while also showing individuality. Their movements are incredibly energetic as they fling their whole bodies through the movements. Such is the speed and energy required for this dance that you can literally hear the dancers gasping for breath at times, even though they are all obviously in peak fitness. By the end of the work, the dancers are sweaty, breathless and covered in earth, bringing home the feeling that they have been fighting for survival against the relentless pull of death.
While others may have different interpretations of what they saw on stage, they must certainly have been just as moved as I was at this incredible work. Whether you are familiar with Pina Bausch’s work or The Rite of Spring as an orchestral piece, or simply wish to experience an incredible work of dance, this performance is a must-see.
Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Season: 4-6 March 2022
Duration: 1hr 35min, including interval
Rating out of 5: 5
Photo Credit: Andrew Beveridge