Seeta Patel Dance: The Rite of Spring – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Choreographer: Seeta Patel

Music (Shree): Samyukta Ranganathan, Prathap Ramachandran, Vijay Venkat

Music (The Rite of Spring): Igor Stravinsky, Roopa Mahadevan

Conductor (The Rite of Spring): Kirill Karabits

The South Asian dance form of Bharatanatyam is a recognisable and captivating one. Normally danced in solo form, the combination of deliberate, geometric body placements and footwork combines with expressive, abstract gestures to create a story.

The form is very much in evidence in the evening of works from Seeta Patel Dance. Before embarking upon the show’s title piece, Patel performs a solo Bharatanatyam work, entitled Shree, accompanied by the distinctive combination of vocals, drums and flute so well associated with the region and the dance form.

Shree opens in darkness, the sounds of a blizzard howling through the auditorium. Gradually, glimpses of Patel emerge, the greenness of her costume breaking through in patches like the first shoots of spring. The music builds as the season changes: from Samyukta Ranganathan’s stirring vocals to the heartbeat-like percussion of Prathap Ramachandran, Patel embodies renewed life, an energised spirit embracing the world.

Vijay Venkat’s flute work brings with it a sense of the animal world waking up, too, of birds flocking and chirruping as they find mates to continue life’s cycle. Backed by some beautifully artistic projections by Wayne Sables, the sense of the seasons, particularly spring and summer, are joyous. It’s a great look at some of the traditional aspects of Bharatanatyam, and its celebration of spring certainly makes it an apt companion piece to Stravinsky’s work.

For The Rite of Spring, Patel has partnered with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to bring that luscious, ground-breaking score to life. To complement the very Western score, the choreographer brings the principles of Bharatanatyam, normally performed solo, into an ensemble space.

The cast of twelve, all similarly clothed in androgynous, flowing garments, combine elements of South Asian dance with a more contemporary style: precise, heel-first foot placements and expressive arm movements are the most obvious reference points, but the combination of global dance styles is so lithe and fluid that trying to distinguish one from the other in Patel’s choreography is as futile as it is beside the point.

The story largely follows that of the original ballet, as originally choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. The first act of the piece is a celebration of spring, as tribespeople revel in the creative power of the season. By the second act, one of their number has been chosen to become a ritual sacrifice – a literal representation of death’s place in the circle of life.

Patel separates the ballet’s two acts with a short original vocal composition by Roopa Mahadevan, which plays as the sleeping Chosen One is watched over by spirits blowing pixie dust over them. As a piece of music, it’s beautiful: it’s less necessary narratively, as the same imagery is repeated as the orchestra picks up with the second part of Stravinsky’s score.

The build-up to the sacrifice nicely balances the tension with a series of fine ensemble performances, the Chosen One’s fate represented physically by a bundle of blood-red cloth. The reveal of what is in the bundle, and how it plays into the representation of the Chosen One’s ultimate sacrifice, is a sight best witnessed for oneself. But it awards an arresting finale to an evening full of beautiful visuals and striking music. Seeta Patel’s vision of fusing South Asian dance with Stravinsky’s daring score certainly pays off.

Continues until 14 March 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Striking fusion

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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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