Thursday 1 November 2012

Rite of Spring Centenary

Nikokai Roerich's design for
The Rite of Spring in 1913
Next year sees the centenary of the premiere of Stravinsky and Nijinsky's ballet, The Rite of Spring. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes gave the premiere at the Theatre des Champs Elysees on 29 May 1913. And naturally a number of organisations are celebrating the centenary in a variety of ways, with Sadlers Wells Theatre devoting a whole mini-season to it. The problem is that neither Stravinsky's music, nor Nijinsky's choreography shocks any more. And for the choreography we only have a pale simulacrum reconstructed from drawings and memories. So Sadler's Wells are programming Michael Keegan-Dolan's new version and have commissioned a new work entirely from Akhram Khan.

Khan will be using 12 dancers and choreographing a work inspired by Stravinsky, called iTMOi (In the Mind of Igor) with a new score by Jocelyn Pook, Nitin Sawhney and Ben Frost. This will be presented over the period of the centenary itself, 28 May to 1 June 2013. Khan will be featuring the French actress Catherine Schaub-Akbarian, a pair of twins and some break dancers!

Earlier in the season Sadlers Wells are featuring Michael Keegan-Dolan's new version of Stravinsky's ballet which he premiered in 2009 at the London Coliseum in a collaboration between his Fabulous Beast company and English National Opera. For this new presentation The Rite of Spring will be paired with his new version of Petrushka, both danced by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. See the Sadlers Wells website for further details of both events.

If you want to see Nijinsky's original choreography, reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer then you will have to pop over to Paris where the Theatre des Champs Elysees is presenting the work danced by the Ballet Theatre du Mariinsky with Valery Gergiev conducting the Orchestra of the Mariinsky. If anyone can re-capture the original spirit of the piece then it is Gergiev. They are performing the work with a new piece by Sasha Waltz.

The theatre is also presenting the Tanzteater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch in Pina Bausch's version of The Rite of Spring along with a documentary made in 1987. See the Theatre des Champs Elysees website for details. (The company will also be at Sadlers Wells in February 2013, but with a different programme).

One of the fascinating things about Diaghilev's original presentation was the way that it combined cutting edge music and choreography with very traditional sets and costumes. I think one of the problems with reconstructions of the original is that it looks so old fashioned and at odds with the music and choreography. The original chosen maiden, Maria Piltz was chosen by Nijinsky not for her dancing abilities but for her height. Observers at the rehearsals, seeing Nijinsky demonstrate the role to her, commented that it was pity that he had not written the role for himself to dance.

There have, since then, been other choreographers who have done rather different pieces. Massine did a version in 1920 for Diaghilev, because when he tried to revive the original no-one could remember Stravinsky's choreography. (Though Marie Rambert worked with Nijinsky on the choreography, as she had been trained by Dalcroze, she always refused to countenance using her memories to create a version.) Interestingly when Massine's version had its US premiere in 1930, the chosen maiden was Martha Graham and Stokowski conducted; that must have been quite an evening too.

I still remember Richard Alston's version of The Rite of Spring for the Rambert Dance Company which I saw in the early 1980's, in the round in the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, danced to Stravinsky's piano duet version of the music. A fascinating and memorable version, I hope to come across it again.

And of course there is also Kenneth Macmillan's astonishing version (with designs by Sidney Nolan) which is still in the Royal Ballet's repertoire. I was lucky enough to see Monica Mason dancing the chosen maiden in her last performances in the role, and also returned more recently to see Edward Watson dance the same role; fascinating to see it danced with a change of sex.

Elsewhere on the blog:
  • London Song Festival - English and American comedy songs - review
  • Barbican Centre - Donizetti Belisario - review
  • Brighton Early Music Festival - Autumn Lates - review
  • Home page

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