The allusions to Nijinsky started immediately: the three-quarter profile with hands flat to the audience; the angular arms and head flung back; those splayed, bent-legged leaps. They continued throughout Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s thrilling interpretation of The Rite of Spring, which debuted in Canada in 1993 and stands as a Dionysian love song to both Nijinsky, the brilliant and misunderstood choreographer of the original ballet, and Stravinsky, the great composer behind it. The dance, eccentric and fresh, is an homage to their genius, and especially poignant now at this 100th anniversary of the outrageous original Ballet Russes production in Paris—a landmark of early modernism, where the shouting and booing of the crowd famously drowned out the orchestra and Nijinsky had to shout out the count to his dancers from backstage.
In bare circles of light and wearing scant black unisex trunks, the dancers alternately writhe and pound the stage in two-footed jumps, pulsing to the inexorable throb of the music. The near-nakedness of their bodies is unsensational and utterly right for this depiction of brainstem human behavior. A dancer gesticulates, rolls her torso in lithe contractions, and leaps up and down, alone in her world, until two males appear and begin posturing like rutting stags. Dancers begin showing up with odd, antler-like protuberances on their bodies, as they thrust their pelvises and jut heads. Chouinard's dancers are rubber-bodied and move with sparkling intensity through the distinctive patterns of her choreography. Chouinard says that there is no storyline in her choreography of Rite, but the energy is explosive, instinctual: the force of creation unleashed. The music, interpreted by the UW Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jonathon Pasternak, crackled with the same energy.
The finale of the dance, which lost intensity and ended—unlike the abrupt exciting close of the music—with the dancers simply walking through the final chords of the piece, was the only moment of the choreography I question. But even that incongruous ending may seem right, next time around.
Part of the story of modernism is that the shock of the new quickly fades. After last night’s performance, leaving the theater in an excited crowd gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a debut that caused a near-riot in Paris, I overheard a young woman behind me say to her date:
“Okay, so, like, I just have to ask: Why was Rite of Spring so controversial?”
Why indeed? The UW will refresh our memories. Chouinard’s Rite of Spring with the UW symphony is part of a Centennial Celebration that is ongoing at the university. Among the scheduled lectures and performances is a talk by Compagnie Marie Chouinard rehearsal director Martha Carter on February 6. For the full lineup, visit http://www.artsci.washington.edu/artsuw/riteofspring100th/
Compagnie Marie Chouinard
Thru Jan 26, Meany Hall, UW campus, $20–$42