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Stuart King

Review: THE RITE OF SPRING at Sadler’s Wells

Pina Bausch’s ground-breaking 1975 choreography for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has remained intact but here, embodied by a new generation of dancers assembled from various African countries, it has taken on an ecological urgency all its own.

The Rite of Spring - Sadler's WellsThe Rite of Spring at Sadler's Wells.

The Adoration of the Earth and The Exalted Sacrifice make up the two main sections of the piece in which dancers firstly honour Mother Earth and then one of them is chosen as a sacrifice during a pagan ritual to end Winter and bring forth Spring. Performed originally as part of Sergei Diaghilev’s 1913 Ballet Russe season with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, the work has remained a mainstay of both ballet programmes and concert performances around the world, ever since.

This production marks Sadler’s Wells’ first collaboration with the Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables of Senegal and was due to be performed as part of a double bill with a piece entitled common ground[s] but sadly, the company found it necessary to withdraw the second piece on Press Night due to an issue surrounding Covid.

The Rite of Spring performance went ahead and interestingly, (per Bausch’s preference) the crew appear en masse 15 minutes before the off, to lay a protective cover over the stage which then receives the earth on which the dancers perform — delivered here in giant wheelie bins and choreographed to empty with loud thuds before being spread evenly across the playing area with rakes and shovels. Quite a spectacle for those willing to take their seats a little early.

The performance itself, conforms to expectations. From the high opening note of the bassoon, individual female dancers dash on stage where they are momentarily frozen like deer in the lights, but are soon energetically interacting with their male counterparts in a series of jolting plié, leaps and lifts, leading to the frenzied end. If you’ve never seen it, you should. At a running time of a mere 37 minutes, there’s plenty of time to dissect the performance in the bar afterwards.