Sunday, 17 March 2019

Phoenix Comes of Age with its Rite of Spring

The original cast of the Rite of Spring, Paris 2013

Phoenix Dance Theatre The Rite of Spring The Lowry, 8 March 2019

In my review of Windrush, Movement of the People 8 Feb 2018, I described the work as "the best show that I have ever seen in Leeds."  "What could possibly follow that?" I asked myself.  My answer came on 8 March 2019 when I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre's Rite of Spring with Opera North's Gianni Schicchi at The Lowry. As Vanessa Vince Pang led Maestro Garry Walker on stage to acknowledge the audience's applause I thought to myself that Phoenix had truly come of age.

The foundation of any production of The Rite of Spring is Stravinsky's music which sets out a framework in two parts starting with an introduction and ending with the sacrificial dance of the chosen one,   Some choreographers have kept the music but chosen not to follow the framework.  Jeanguy Saintus has not done that and although his choreography reflects his genius I did not fear that Nijinsky's shade would be troubled. In fact, I felt that Santus's work was the next best thing to a time machine that would transport me to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for the 29 May 1913.

For the first time, I saw Phoenix perform before a live orchestra and they did so magnificently.  Five members of the cast I already knew well but Manon Adrianov, Aaron Chaplin and Michael Marquez were new to me. They complimented Carmen Marfil, Carlos Martinez, Vaness Vince-Pang, Prentice Whitlow and Natalie Alleston seamlessly.  The stage was a caldron of movement and sound.   It was everything that Stravinsky, Nijinsky and indeed Diaghilev must have imagined.  The applause at the end was deafening.

The Rite of Spring was performed not with another dance piece but with a one-act opera by Puccini,   Stravinsky and Puccini may have lived and worked at the beginning of the last century. I have long admired them both.  But until their works were juxtaposed I never thought that they had much in common.  To my great surprise and joy, The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi seemed to work very well together.   The latter work is not nearly as well known as the former though it does contain one very well-known air, O mio babbino caro by Lauretta.

The libretto, incidentally, was about something that actually happens in real life from time to time though happily in England the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975  alleviates the need for a deceased's disappointed relations to impersonate the testator or forge his will.  The opera was staged beautifully by Opera North.  I hope that the success of this production will lead to similar collaborations between Opera North and Phoenix and indeed other opera and contemporary dance or ballet companies.

There is just one more performance of The Rite of Spring and Giani Schicchi at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on 22 March 2019.   If you live anywhere near Nottingham this is the show to see even if you see nothing more all year.

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