The Rite of Spring – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Composer: Igor Stravinsky

Choreographer: Pina Bausch

Conductor: Prof. Werner Dickel

In March of 2020, a company of 36 dancers from 14 African nations were preparing to tour their production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, using the choreography devised by Pina Bausch. They were about to open in Dakar, then travelling to the Pina Bausch Foundation in Wuppertal, then on to an extensive tour of Europe and Australia. Then covid upended all their plans, stranded them in Senegal, and put the whole project on hold for two years and three months. They did manage to film a final rehearsal, on a beach in Senegal at sunset, which Sadler’s Wells streamed for a month. It was called Dancing at Dusk, and it will again be available on the Sadler’s Wells website for a month, from 9 June to 9 July , and it is glorious.

The dancers were faced with a dilemma common enough in the last couple of years, the problem of “keeping the work alive in our bodies” as one of the dancers put it. The question was, would the piece survive the long pause when it finally reached the stage? Spoiler alert: it very much did.

The staging is really simple: a large square of brown soil, the starkest of lights, bare feet, bare chests, and loose grey trousers for the men, bare feet and silky white shifts for the women. And one shift that is a singing red colour, that holds an importance and a threat for all the dancers. What that threat is, what the red shift signifies, is the story of the ballet.

The music is extraordinary, rhythmic, propulsive. There are lyrical passages, violins that are almost sweet, but always, underpinning the piece, a relentless rhythm. And it is that that propels the dancers, sometimes alone, sometimes as an ensemble, but always driven by the beat. Bare feet kick up loose soil, dust clings to bodies, and the beat drives them on. Till one woman in a red shift dances alone and completes the story.

It was going to be a programme with two dance-pieces, but covid struck again and left The Rite of Spring on its own, thirty minutes of brilliant ballet. Jorge Puerta Armenta and Clémentine Deluy from the Pina Bausch Foundation have restaged the 1975 choreography, Germaine Acogny and her École Des Sables, a centre in Senegal for African dance and African dancers, have given the production a home and a focus, Rolf Borzic’s earth floor is simple and effective, but the plaudits belong to the magnificent dancers. This was so well worth the wait. Getting in to the theatre 30 minutes early allows one to watch the stage-hands spread 3,000 kilograms of soil, which is a beautifully choreographed piece in its own right, but the intensity and dynamic force of the ballet will endure in the audience’s memory for a long, long time.

Runs until 11 June 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Graceful, grounded, glorious.

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The Reviews Hub - London

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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