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26th May, 2019

The Rite of Spring brings plenty of energy to the Birmingham Rep

WHEN composer Igor Stravinsky’s score for The Rite of Spring was first performed in Paris in 1913, it was both applauded and derided in equal measure.

The avant-garde nature of the composition would ensure that it has endured as a ‘go-to’ piece – a rite-of-passage for any aspiring choreographer to work with.

Indeed, there are currently no less than four interpretations touring the UK, including this one currently at the Birmingham Rep.

Each one of the productions brings something new and innovative to the stage.

Choreographer Seeta Patel’s re-imagining seamlessly fuses South Indian dance style Bharatanatyam with contemporary dance, in a piece that brings to the fore the rhythms of Stravinsky’s music.

The first part of this breathless 40-minute piece, is full of joyful energy as spring awakens.

Exaggerated finger movements (as characterised in South Indian dance) are cleverly used to depict the growth and flowering of buds, and insects, birds and animals re-awakening.

The dancers’ rhythmic movements are like a game of chase where no-one is quite sure of who is ‘it’.  Underlying this is a sense of foreboding – who would be the one chosen as the sacrifice to the pagan gods?

Patel has divided Stravinsky’s score so that as ‘the chosen one’ is revealed, we enter a dreamlike section of south Indian singing by Roopa Mahadevan.

This rhythmic singing is mesmerising as we watch the dancers preparing ‘the chosen one’ for what is to come, in a sensual, intimate ritual infused with both pagan and south Indian tradition. The blowing of coloured powders was particularly powerful with its echoes of the festival of Holi.

We are jolted out of this dreamlike state as Patel takes us back to the Stravinsky score as it reaches a frenetic climax.

The one to be sacrificed is adorned with a red robe, which the dancers cleverly unravel into long tendrils that fill the stage. The chosen one’s face is covered by a red veil, which seems to spark fear in the other dancers as they realise what fate has in store.

The ultimate moment as Stravinsky’s music fades away to silence is full of imagery as the chosen one is wound into the blood-red cloths.

The six dancers performed with great energy and precision, effortlessly interweaving east and west dance styles to reveal new layers of Stravinsky’s powerful music in a thought-provoking and powerful interpretation.

Review by Euan Rose and Johannah Dyer

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