Sasha Waltz & Guests ****
Sadler’s Wells, 11th November 2015
A century on, The Rite of Spring still has the power to shock. However, it’s frequently Igor Stravinsky’s score – rather than the choreography – which ignites this reaction in me. In 2003, I found Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer’s reconstruction of the original Nijinsky choreography – turned-in toes and bent legs – hugely disappointing when the Mariinsky Ballet brought it to Covent Garden, more risible than riotous. In Kinder Aggugini’s black warrior computer game designs, English National Ballet’s 2012 setting of Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography was more like it, but it was still the music which made the greater impact.
Stravinsky is relegated to recorded soundtrack for the visit of Sasha Waltz & Guests to Sadler’s Wells, doubtless a necessity of touring. However, Waltz’s Sacre emerges full of primal energy to make the visceral impact for which the score cries out. The Berlin-based choreographer’s version resembles Pina Bausch’s at times – women with loose hair, half-naked men, drab colours and scattered earth, the Chosen One presented with a brightly coloured dress to don – but the choreography has a raw power which is genuinely shocking.
Mists engulf the stage, a pile of stones, ash or earth at its centre – the remains of a fire? – as The Rite unfolds. Entwined couples awake, as if from hibernation. Waltz often arranges her 28 dancers in three groups – or tribes – which splinter and fracture off in different combinations. “The Augurs of Spring” is not frenetic, with no stamping or jumping to Stravinsky’s unpredictable rhythms, but features the three groups in flowing tableaux. Sometimes, the movements are no greater than a twist of the head.
Sharp and angular, the choreography is full of raw energy and bristling with sexual tension. Dancers collapse in an orgiastic pile at the end of Part 1, panting and gasping for air. Waltz leads the eye off in different directions, so detailed are the various interactions. You’re never quite sure which female dancer is intended as the Chosen One until she is made to don a purple robe (Maria Marta Colusi). Her final solo – danced stark naked – grows increasingly frantic, pleading for salvation. A scarlet spike, a symbol of penetration, slowly descends during the course of the work, finally piercing the stage as the Chosen One collapses. Sacre is both exhausting and exhilarating.
The rest of Waltz’s triple bill couldn’t possibly compete in terms of impact. Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune lacked the sensuous languor of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem in this version, which features arched backs and much posturing in vibrantly coloured swimwear. Groups of dancers take the stage, rather than a focus on a single couple. A man peels off another’s skin, revealing a tattoed torso. The results were strangely unerotic, unless drawing on a woman’s legs with lipstick is your sort of thing.
Scène d’amour – an extract from Roméo et Juliette staged by Deutsche Oper last season – was far more successful. A lyrical, tender pas de deux, it is closely aligned to Berlioz’ fluttering love scene. Waltz’s weaves her couple – Lorena Justribó Manion and Ygal Tsur – through their amorous encounter, which includes lots of low lifts – her choreography playful, teasing, romantic until the girl leaves her lover, curled up, to his reverie.
All too short, this triple bill certainly demonstrates the emotional range that Sasha Waltz & Guests can encompass… but it was Sacre which shattered itself most forcibly into my memory.