All-African troupe in Pina Bausch's "Rite of Spring"
An all-African dance troupe is bringing "The Rite of Spring", a work of art that combines the music of one of the 20th century's best-known composers with perhaps its most venerated choreographer: Germany's Pina Bausch.
Set to Igor Stravinsky's groundbreaking music - first performed as a ballet score in 1913 - the group of 28 dancers brings the tale of a virgin dancing until she drops dead in a sacrifice to bring back spring and chase away winter.
Bausch's 1975 vision on the work is rather more modern than what Russia's Sergei Diaghilev showed in his Ballets Russes more than a century ago. Now, it is getting another twist as a largely black 28-strong crew follows Bausch's choreography, leaping about an earth-laden stage on bare foot.
In an evening programme, Luxembourg's Grand Théâtre is bringing this classic work - a collaboration of the Pina Bausch Foundation in Germany, Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in the UK, and the Ecole des Sables in Senegal - after the intermission. But the wait is worth it.
The dancing is both fluid and trance-like, interspersed with moments of sharp, violent movements. At one point the male dancers leap like wild stags, while men and women separate and huddle in smaller groups at other times.
Who will be the sacrifice? No one wants that role, but eventually one dancer takes it, and in a spectacular solo performance she writhes and flails, jerks and recovers, much like a wounded animal slowly descending into death.
Captivating throughout its 30-minute performance, audience members who stay in the auditorium during the interval will see stage hands fill the podium with fresh soil. It gives the setting an earthly, natural feel, as if you are really are seeing the girl dance in the heart of an untouched forest.
Two dancers’ lives
The evening's opening half sees Germaine Acogny, the founder of Ecole des Sables join forces with Malou Airaudo, one of Bausch’s leading dancers in her early works, in a tender and poetic collaboration entitled “common ground[s]”.
The duo’s first collaboration, it examines the shared history and emotional experiences of the dancers. Opening with a glorious sunrise, it follows the movements of the two women, sometimes together, sometimes apart, as they journey through life.
In many sequences the two use a long wooden stick as a prop, that is at one time a paddle, at another a dance class bar. In one, both women sit with buckets, one washing herself and a cloth, the other, staring reflectively and at times repulsed by the bucket.
There is something dreamy about this continuous cycle, and the way the women come together to hold, wash and support each other. They seem tied together even when on different sides of the stage - perhaps representing different sides of the world.
It’s also workaday – washing, bathing, contemplating your life. A great testimony to what both women have achieved, and no doubt in part a tribute to the influence of Bausch.
Senegalese French dancer Acogny - known as the mother of contemporary African dance - combines the influences of her mother, a Yoruba priestess, with her knowledge of traditional African dance and her time running the Studio Ecole Ballet Theatre of Third World in Toulouse.
Airaudo joined Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal in the 1970s, performing many lead roles before choreographing her own pieces and becoming Director of the Institute of Contemporary Dance at the University of the Arts in Essen-Werden.
You can catch both performances, lasting about an hour plus an interval at the Grand Théâtre on Friday and on Saturday at 20.00 hrs. Tickets are still available.