Thursday, 11 April 2019

Phoenix's Rite of Spring and Left Unseen

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Phoenix Dance Theatre The Rite of Spring and Left Unseen 9 April 2019, 19:30 CAST in Doncaster

On 8 March 2019, I saw Phoenix Dance Theatre perform  Jeanguy Saintus's Rite of Spring with a live orchestra on the main stage of the Lowry Theatre.  It was a magnificent performance that I described as Phoenix's coming of age.  It had been part of an evening of dance and song - a very successful collaboration with Opera North that I should like to see repeated.   

On 9 April 2019,  I saw the Rite of Spring again at the Cast in Doncaster as part of a double bill with Left Unseen by Amaury Lebrun.  The company had already performed those works in Poole and will take them to Malvery, Keswick, Dundee, Cheltenham and the Peacock. 

The evening opened with Left Unseen which is the first of Lebrun's works that I have seen.  However, we shall shortly see another because he told me that he has been commissioned to create a work for Northern Ballet. Lebrun was born in France and trained at the School of the Ballet du Nord in Roubaix and the School of American Ballet in New York.  He danced with several companies before joining the Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain as a principal.

Left Unseen opens with a spotlit single dancer.  According to the programme notes, the work explores inclusion and isolation.  I was particularly impressed by an interaction between Prentice Whitlow and Vanessa Vince-Pang. She reaches out to him but he recoils from her.  She tries again to similar effect. He approaches her but she steps aside.  He tries again but she pushes him out of the way. Finally, she leaps onto his back as an act of aggression - not of affection.  The score was contributed by Alva NotoRyuichi Sakamoto and Hildur  Guðnadóttir.  It was integrated into a single piece so seamlessly that I thought it had been a single work.

The main difference between the performances of the Rite of Spring at the Lowry and the Cast is that the company had to rely on recorded music in Doncaster.  They have chosen a very good recording by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Pierre Boulez. The work that the Ballets Russes had performed in Paris in 2013 had been set in Pre-Christian Russia.  Using the same score by Stravinsky, Saintus set his work in contemporary Haiti drawing heavily on voudou rituals that invoke Ogou (the spirit of fire, iron, war and blacksmiths), the Marasa (divine twins) and Damballa (the serpent spirit and creator of life). In Saintus's version as in the Ballets Russes', there is a chosen one but she is chosen not for sacrifice but to host the spirit of Damballa.

I was much closer to the stage in Doncaster than I had been in Salford and I could see and admire the intricate robes worn by both male and female dancers with their tassels and drapery. For one of the movements, two of the dancers' hands were coloured green,  For another, the hands of all the dancers were coloured red.   At one point a red cushion which I had assumed to be a heart was passed on stage but, on reflection, I think it may have been the spirit of  Damballa. 

Saintus's production is an original work anchored in the traditions of the Caribbean and probably also  Africa.   However, I also think it is a very faithful one.   As I said in my previous review, Nijinsky's shade would not have been troubled by Saintus's reimagining. There is something unsettling about the idea of human sacrifice even though it is only on the stage.  That was largely absent in Saintus's work.  It felt like a celebration rather than an oblation.

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