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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 SEPTEMBER 2013 — To celebrate its hundredth anniversary, several danced versions of The Rite of Spring were presented at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris this spring, from the ‘scandalous’ Nijinsky work created in collaboration with Igor Stravinsky and premiered at the very same theatre on the 29th May, 1913, to the landmark 1975 ‘contemporary’ staging of the work by Pina Bausch, when she covered the stage with damp earth. And although countless choreographers have been seduced by both the music and the theme, these two outstanding versions have rarely been surpassed. 

Prior to their series of Kontakthof at the Theatre de la Ville in June, sold out months before, the Tanztheater Wuppertal gave three performances of the German choreographer’s Sacre to wildly enthusiastic spectators, some of whom had bought seats for all three evenings. At a cost of 89 euros per seat, for 35 minutes of dance, this was no mean undertaking. Sadly, many less fortunate found themselves left outside the theatre begging for places.

The evening began with a 1987 documentary showing Bausch coaching one of her dancers in the role of the chosen one. The choreographer, cigarette in hand, an airman’s bonnet on her head and clad in heavy rubber boots moved with incredible grace and musicality through the steps, demonstrating precisely what she wanted.

Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Tanztheater Wuppertal
Choreography: Pina Bausch

It was a documentary in direct contrast to all that has been said about her in recent years. The young dancer was explicitly told what to do and how to do it. Maybe the dancers were, to all appearances, given greater freedom in later years, but this Sacre is all Bausch as she moved away from the imagery of pagan Russia inherent in Stravinsky’s score, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky which so shocked at the time.

This timeless version portrays an elemental struggle for life, for survival, with repetitious gut- wrenching movements leaving the audience itself gasping for breath. Barbaric rites of sacrifice are played out on a vast expanse of dirt, the soil clinging to the dancers’ sweat-covered bodies as they dance till they drop, the large cast sweeping over and across the stage in waves, until they collapsed from physical and mental exhaustion.

The groupings were brilliant and the dancers magnificent in this violent, powerful work which had the audience totally in its grip. Intense, brutal and bestial, the company under the ever-watchful eye of their dedicated co-director, Dominique Mercy, gave it everything.

The Maryinsky Theatre interpreted Nijinsky’s version, Sasha Waltz and company presented their version, and at the end of the month the Akram Khan Company  present yet another very different vision for 11 dancers entitled iTMOi (In the mind of Igor), set to a score not by Stravinsky, but by Nitin Sawney, Jocelyn Pook, and Ben Frost. Khan’s creation lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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