Alice Lambert: The Rite of Spring (and the Right way to dance it?)

group of people performing

« There’s going to be a change of dancers because we’re all ageing somehow, so we have to have new dancers and it’s a big challenge to bring in those new dancers who have never worked with Pina and don’t have this sort of knowledge: (…) We can just hope that it’s going to function. As far as I’m concerned, I hope we can continue to take care of Pina’s pieces in the best way »

-Dominique Mercy, dancer, choreographer, member of Tanztheater Wuppertal and, after Pina’s death, co-director of the company for several years.

Since my last post, I’ve completely thrown myself into German choreographer Pina Bausch’s life and work, and specifically into finding out more about the creation, re-creation, performance, reception and heritage of her piece the Rite of Spring (usually referred to with its french name Le Sacre du Printemps or Le Sacre, but also as Das Frühlingsopfer in German- I’ve come to find that most of Pina’s company members, the Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers, master more than two languages). The previous quote indicates one of the main issues with this process: Pina Bausch, a true force of a nature, a woman whose sensitivity, creativity and humanity led her to become an internationally recognised choreographic genius, passed away in 2009. But her work lives on, which means there needs to be people and methods to re-stage it. I’ve realised that the re-staging of the piece within the company itself is already a great focus for this paper, though discussions around re-staging it on other companies help to compare this process.

I’ve been talking with dancers who performed the piece decades ago, years ago, or who just learned it this year (and therefore never got to know Pina), as well as dancers who performed it and are now teaching it. I’ve been reading Brigitte Gauthier’s Le Langage Choregraphique de Pina Bausch, an extraordinarily precise and acute analysis of Pina’s choreographic vocabulary and logic. I stumbled across this book while looking for readings for an independent study in Bobst actually, and hadn’t had the time to read it, but am so grateful for the chance to dive into it now. Her words are extremely on point and offer the perfect lens through which I will be able to discuss the interviews and my own experience with Tanztheater. She writes in French, so I will be translating the passages that I wish to use, since no translations exist as of right now (perhaps my next task for next summer- the book is worth it). Finally, I have been watching footage of the piece: shot beautifully by Wim Wenders for his 2011 film Pina (10/10 would recommend to all of you- regardless of your level of dance knowledge), or recorded for the promo films of the Paris Opera Ballet performances this October, the English National Ballet this past April, or a recording of a last minute rehearsal with Pina and one of her company members. She had to learn the soloist role, the Chosen One, right before the performance since the original dancer who had been casted was unable to dance. This last recording was an impromptu one: neither the rehearsal nor the timing were planned- all the more captivating!

Summer reading

In the next few days, I’ll be piecing all of this together and planning out my paper. The hardest will be to decide what I must leave out…That’s been a little overwhelming recently and I’m not sure what to focus on. My last skype interview with NYU alum Stephanie Troyak, who performed the piece for the first time last December, was so incredibly useful that I just wish I could interview her in front of all of you for the conference. Her take on the women’s part and the energy created in this piece was a big turning point for me .

The Rite of Spring, Pina Bausch, performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal

After reading some other DASR blog entries, I also decided to share the broad questions that I came up with (with the help of The Craft of Research Coursebook and talks with my friends). These are not necessarily what I have been asking directly in my interviews, rather a series of questions that I hope to answer in my final paper. Here they are, in no particular order:

-How do the directors re-stage the Rite of Spring today? (What are their methods? Do they focus on the steps first? Is the most important thing to offer an accurate re-creation of the original piece, or to create a new piece overtime they work with a different cast?  How do they help new dancers find this unique quality in performance, without which the piece does not exist? What can I found out from the directors, and from the dancers themselves who experience this process differently, not necessarily knowing the intentions behind the process?)

-Why is the piece still relevant today?

-Why is it « easier »/more effective to re-stage this piece than some other works of Pina Bausch (see first post to read about my discussion with Thusnelda Mercy)

-How did Pina create this piece in the first place? Brigitte Gauthier reminds us that several artists have re-staged their own version of the Rite of Spring to Stravinsky’s music, originally choreographed by Nijinsky. Of these, the versions of Maurice Béjart and Pina Bausch are, in my opinion, the most well known. Gauthier states that because of this recurring appearance, re-staging this piece has become a way for a choreographer to share his/her style with the world, to offer his/her vision of dance and of the original myth. In this case, what characterises Pina’s vision?

-Does the piece endure throughout time? (This might be the easiest question. Yes, it clearly has: check out Brooklyn Academy of Music’s website to see that the show in New York is very awaited)

-Does the performance change according to its audience? Is location and culture something that directors have to think about? (The conversations I’ve had so far seem to point towards the response that no, they do not alter the performances, unlike the dancers’ personalities and culture which do)

-What is the Rite fo Spring about? What does it illustrate/reveal/share about human nature?  (the most exciting question to me!! Hearing dancers talk about this has reminded me how much I appreciate this art)

-What makes it such a strong piece?

-How does the death of a choreographer influence the re-staging process of his/her work? (In my case, Pina’s death, since the response to this question will no doubt vary according to the artist in question.)

Finally, after going back and forth on this several times, I’ve decided to also share this excerpt of the piece, filmed by Wim Wenders for his documentary film (seriously, go watch it.) I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share this before presenting my paper, but I’d actually love to hear about your impressions.  Because of this; I haven’t really shared anything about the thematics of the piece and the myth itself. Longer extracts can be found on Youtube if you’re interested!