Last night, there was a full house at Lincoln Hall, inside PSU. The performance by Compagnie Marie Chouinard, presented by White Bird Uncaged, attracted a diverse audience for this commemorative dance of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which had it’s debut in 1913, Paris, originally performed as a ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. The composer’s masterpiece continued independently and is rarely presented with the original choreography. Marie Chouinard’s work may be viewed as a reinterpretation and modernization of the original work, though we are treating it here as totally new and original choreography. The entirety of the sixty-minute show is two acts. The first entitled Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is a short solo danced by Carol Prieur. Today (Friday) Dorotea Saykaly will take her place. The full, nine-piece company performs The Rite of Spring for most of the hour.
What first strikes me about the opening prelude is the character. She is pale and wearing this white body suit with spiky protrusions, offering a daemon-like appearance. She is inhuman and grotesque with ram horns pointing opposite of each other. Of course it’s not just that, it’s the movement. The dancer is graceful but the steps are crude in character. She also comes off hieroglyphic, always walking on a track, usually with one side of the body facing you. Her grunts and breathing remind me of a pug—you know the dog with poor nasal passages. Between the grunting and thrusting motions, I was interpreting sexuality in to it. Initially, I thought, “Okay, not another sexual interpretation. I really am deprived to mistake the fine art of performance for my own sexual urges.” But this time I was vindicated. Thrusting and grunting, she chases light beams that appear along the track as if caught in some dungeon or hell realm. The daemon struggles to join the light. In the final moments of the act, one of her horns break off and she attaches it to her groin, thrusting further than before, gaining laughs from the audience because it is indeed humorous. There is one more gag, but not to spoil it, I’ll just say that she bears the likeness of a male pug even more so, at the end.
The prelude sets a theme for the remaining fifty-minute act. Characters definitely have the same daemon quality but their appearance is clearly less crude while maintaining that breathing and odd motion. All of the dancers are outfitted in a single pair of translucent short shorts and no top. The design is more futuristic than before, and inherently sexy, but I am not drawn to them. They remain essentially grotesque, with deep red eyes and shadows along the face, pale and oddly moving. The second act begins with scribbling pen and paper sounds and an array of those horns on the floor. Rober Racine composed the music, Signatures Sonores. Carrying on for twelve minutes with these daemons in solos and duos, relationships and characters are developed that will play importantly in to the feature of the night, when Stravinsky’s masterpiece comes to life.
Striking and memorable images are born from this sequence. As it is happening, I begin to ponder the imagination of the artist and how difficult it is to convey the vision that only they can see. The final product is always a compromise. The impressions of this vision are vivid although you may suspect that something is missing, like an Imax screen. The color and landscape is burgeoning, yet the stage is stark and costumes minimal.
But as the dance ensues you know that life is bursting before your very eyes. The characters on stage could be viewed upon as impressions of a daemon world, rather than specific characters interrelating a story. Music as rhythmic and jarring, often unsettling as this work may be, the choreographer is compelled in to a literal relationship with the music for several passages. But it is not obvious and did in fact blur my expectations, which is a fine balance to strike.
It would be worth it to enter a theater with hundreds of people, simply to hear a stereo playback of The Rite of Spring, but it is quite valuable to see a beautifully presented contemporary ballet with it. The work is also humorous. If you are going to reinterpret Stravinsky, it should look like collaboration between Iron Maiden and Fred Astaire, and that’s what I got from it. But more than that, it is a striking original work infused with grotesque grace, humor and the story of an undying struggle between light and dark.
The Rite of Spring by Compagnie Marie Chouinard is playing Friday and Saturday nights at Lincoln Hall. For more information about this performance, visit www.whitebird.org.