Tonight is the final performance of Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s The Rite of Spring (it’s a full month for White Bird Dance, which has a show nearly every week this February). The troupe puts on a great show—masterful and absorbing—but one that's hard to like, necessarily.
With one of the most sensual and renowned histories in dance, 2013 marks the 100-year anniversary of the original performance of The Rite of Spring. The choreography is since lost (Chouinard’s troupe presents their 1993 version of the piece), but Igor Stravinsky’s famous, mercurial score lives on. Read about the work’s tumultuous history, beginning with the Russian Ballet, here; in short, it’s a dance that caused near-riots in France during its debut, with its references of ‘primitive’ rituals and a young maiden who dances herself to death.
Marie Chouinard delivers. The French-Canadian company presents a piece that is ridiculously athletic, demanding, and relentless. At the same time, maybe don’t expect to enjoy it—it’s irritating, discordant, and bizarre.
The first segment of the performance (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) is a short solo. Onstage is a creature: sinister, mythic, and horned (my mind kept drifting to the Cyberdemon in the old Doom videogame…), that moves with incredible control, in a robotic, interrupted way. It’s making gasping sounds, grunty, raspy, sex sounds. It chases a beam of light back and forth, from the left side of the stage to the right.
The performance culminates in a metaphorical sex scene. The creature has broken off a horn and repurposed it as a penis, attaching it at her groin. Eventually the dancer is in plank pose, thrusting her horn-penis hybrid into a bed of light, which, ok, weird, but, it actually works. It’s convincing; when the lights go up, you are at least a little taken aback to find that that that epic, devilish creature in the middle of the stage is actually a human being…a woman (Carol Prieur), and a very petite woman at that.
After a short break you are ushered into The Rite of Spring with something like the scratchy sound of chalk on a chalkboard (or of a wheezy demon). Here:
The performers—a mix of men and women—are totally topless, yet they all seem androgynous. There’s nothing particularly feminine or masculine about any of the movements; everyone appears at least a little beastly. The dancers take the stage at various times, sometimes often only one performer is on stage, dancing under a spotlight. In the case of multiple performers, they dance intensely (and more balletic than the robotic movements in the first piece), usually unsynchronized. Sometimes they crawl across the stage; sometimes they gallop in place, other times they do something like a very serious absurdist's rendition of "Walk Like an Egypt."
One of the stranger and more telling experiences of the night was when leaving the theater, and hearing language again. After seeing that show, and being engrossed in Chouinard's world, language felt…ineffective. It felt strange to hear and speak. Something about the intensity of this performance, words seemed somehow inadequate after.
Tickets are selling fast, but are still available for tonight's performance at Lincoln Hall. Get them here.
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