The Rite of Spring (composed by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in 1913 for the Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion Sadler’s Wells has commissioned the ” String of Rites “series. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Double Bill The Rite of Spring and Petrushka, performed by his Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, is the opening performance of the trio and was on for a 3 nights run 11 – 13 April at the Sadler’s Wells.
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre is described as “one of the most daring and highly original dance theatre companies in the world”. It is an international ensemble based in county Longford, Ireland, led by founder and artistic director Michael Keegan-Dolan. From his previous works, Keegan-Dolan is known for his fast and furious approach, bold and sharp in his presentations. He took on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as a commission from the English National opera in 2009, and when asked if he had felt any apprehension on doing so he said “You jump, and then its like swimming the English Channel. You’ve just got to keep swimming”.
The rhythmic complexity of Stravinsky’s music piece and the numerous prior choreographic interpretations make any new attempt challenging. Keegan-Dolan takes up this challenge and delivers one of the finest, thought provoking choreographies on Stravinsky’s music. Rite of Spring was intended to shock and awe a sophisticated middle class Parisian audience at the turn of the century. Fertility rites and ancestor worship, already concepts of the past were replaced with themes of fear – of the changing seasons, of violence, of death. Due to this nature of the presentation it was not a very welcoming experience to its audience in 1913. But today a contemporary audience is more receptive to a Keegan-Dolan interpretation of immense energy and vitality, the human urge for exploration and change
Keegan-Dolan has revisited his Rite of Spring version of 2009 for this performance. This time, through a cast of 6 male and 6 female dancers as opposed to 11 male and 3 female, he strikes a balance which has an underlying social hint of today’s world being equally shared by the two genders. He also clads his male dancers in girly floral short loose dresses along with the female dancers in part of his choreography. This blurs the gender division, leaving the space for the all powerful unifying creative energy. There is a sequence where the dancers both male and female are down on the stage floor, have intercourse with the ground, depicted through a brilliant set of choreographic movements . The imagery draws from an ancient Irish belief that a king on his coronation would engage in matrimony with mother earth which in turn would lead to a great yield of crops, failing which disaster would strike and the king would have to abdicate. This again can be looked at as power and right being uniformly distributed between men and women in present times.
In the second piece -Petrushka, Keegan-Dolan’s interpretation departs farther from the the original – Nijinski’s famed presentation of 1911. There are no sad puppets or a slaying of Petrushka. What we see is a more optimistic interpretation with a white stage and 10 dancers dressed in white. Each dancer tries to rise above and reach the world beyond. In the end its the chosen one that transcends, cleverly depicted by the dancer climbing up a rope ladder while the rest of the group gather around rejoicing at the ascent.
The choice of the two pieces Rite and Petrushka lend a perfect contrast in light and colour. Rite opens with a bleak, wintery scene, gradually moving towards light, ending in a bright orange hue, welcoming the advent of Spring. Petrushka starts bright, more of a pure steel white continuing through, till in the end the white drops entirely exposing a pitch black. Rite is about darker elemental forces, about power and violence while Petrushka is about hope and salvation to eternity.
The two pieces are danced in perfect rhythmic response to the piano duo arrangements by renowned concert pianists Lidija and Sanja Bizjak. With Rite of Spring and Petrushka Keegan-Dolan challenges the audience with another new interpretation of one of he most complex stage creations of the 20th century. A remarkable performance that continues to hold Keegan-Dolan’s flag high.