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Dancing at Dusk: A Moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite Of Spring – Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Choreographer: Pina Bausch

Director: Florian Heinzen-Ziob

While we are unfortunate that the collaboration between The Pina Bausch Foundation, Senegal’s École des Sables, and Sadler’s Wells never embarked upon their tour of Europe because of Covid-19, we are fortunate that they decided to make a film of their final rehearsal on a beach at sunset. Until tour dates are rescheduled, this beautiful and thrilling film is certainly excellent compensation.

Stravinsky’s music to the Rite of Spring caused outrage at the beginning of the twentieth century and the story of a girl chosen to dance to her death still has the propensity to shock. Pina Bausch’s version, first performed in 1975, focuses on the final part of the story, where a group of female dancers must decide who is to be sacrificed. The Chosen One must dance to her death in front of the men.

This division of the sexes underlines many of Bausch’s works, and the battle between men and women was most recently seen in Bluebeard, revived this year at Sadler’s Wells. In Rite of Spring, the difference between the men and women is marked most noticeably by their clothes designed by Rolf Borzik ; the women wear sheer taupe dresses while the men, bare-chested, wear dark loose trousers that flap constantly and pleasingly in the coastal wind.

Most of the 38 dancers, themselves chosen from the African continent, stand on the edges of a makeshift stage on the beach in Senegal, the sand, raked smooth, a perfect replacement for the earth required in Bausch’s instructions. Inside this square a single female dancer lies upon a red cloth, and as other female dancers move onto the stage to mirror her movements, the cloth is passed on. The one who retains the cloth will be the sacrificial dancer, but here, in Bausch’s reimagining of the story, the cloth also symbolises virginity.

When the men join the women on the stage, the results are brilliant and chaotic, and it’s a wonder there are no collisions between the dancers. They hit every single beat of Stravinsky’s stirring music, and even on the beach with all its distractions the performers are precise. Germaine Acogny, co-founder of École des Sables, a company that specialises in African dance, says that when she first heard Stravinsky’s music ‘ I felt it was an African rite’. And there does seem something ancient and tribal in some of Bausch’s choreography especially when the women jolt their whole bodies as if held in some trance.

Only using two cameras, or perhaps three, Florian Heinzen-Ziob’s filming is as detailed as the dance, and close-ups show sand particles clinging on to the dancers’ skin, and the heaving of diaphragms as the dancers catch their breath. The intimate camera allows us to see the dancers’ faces too, with the women scared to give themselves up to the ritual as the men stare dispassionately into the distance. As the sun sets, the image of the dancers get thicker and heavier and all are still apart from the woman who has no choice but to dance.

The 40 minutes will leave you equally breathless, and it seems impossible that the dancers could dance this better in a theatre in front of a live audience. It’s a shame that Sadler’s Wells have asked that this performance not be reviewed in the usual way because it’s a masterpiece and it deserves five stars.

Available here to rent until 31 July 2020

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