Israel Galván: La Consagración de la Primavera (Rite of Spring) – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Thom Punton

Concept, Choreography and Dance: Israel Galván

Composer: Igor Stravinsky

There can be a tendency to treat The Rite of Spring, as indeed all classical music, like a museum piece, with fidelity and reverence to its past incarnations. It’s invigorating to see a performance that truly challenges the conventions of the canon. Israel Galván is a flamenco dancer known for breaking the rules and his interpretation of The Rite of Spring, played on two pianos by Daria van den Bercken and Gerard Bouwhuis, is bold in its reinvention of the choreography’s narrative and its expansion of the piece’s percussive underpinning.

There is an immediate playfulness to Galván’s movements, reminiscent of the flamenco he was brought up on – the lustful passion, the peacockery – but imbued with an exaggeration which tips that intensity into a camper, comic territory. Across the vast Sadler’s Wells stage are placed various platforms that Galván stamps on to punctuate the syncopated stabbing note clusters of the pianos. The link between flamenco and Stravinsky quickly makes perfect sense. There’s a similar atavistic, confrontational energy.

The platforms are amplified, with each sounding like a different kind of drum. But rather than just accompanying the piano they offer a skittering cross-rhythm, which at times sounds like gunfire in the distance, or fireworks, or an army marching to war. And it offers a counter narrative to the music. The relationship Galván’s dancing has to the music is like that of a listener, stamping out the percussion parts at times, doing his own thing at others, free to break free and run across the stage to another platform if the moment takes him. At one point he joins the piano players, sliding between the interlocking grand pianos. You half expect him to drape himself seductively over them, like a singer in a bar. Then, at his most exuberant, he can seem like one of the drunken patrons of that bar, stamping on the tables, causing a racket.

The glory of expression in Galván’s dancing also comes from the gender norms that he is subverting. Wearing stockings and suspenders, high-heeled tap boots and flowing gowns, he gives off a joyous feminine energy. One of the most iconic moments comes when he appears at the centre of the stage in a dress that spreads over the floor in a wide circle. His stamping thumps through the hall, the bass amplified to the point where you can hear the building shaking.

If we’re thinking in terms of the conventions of the past, these provocative percussive elements could be seen as destructive, disrespectful of the original. Indeed, echoing the first performance of The Rite in 1913, there were a few people walking out tonight. It may be that this should be seen as a triumph, a demonstration that the power to shock is still present. In a cultural climate where the conservative atmosphere of the concert hall can be at odds with the liberality of expression offered elsewhere, Galván is a true standard bearer for artistic bravery.

Runs until 26 November 2022

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Irreverent flamenco reinvention

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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