Review: Rite of Spring at Arts Centre Melbourne

By Rosie Niven


If you like dance, you’re probably familiar with Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a revolutionary ballet and orchestral concert work about sacrifice and reincarnation, and widely considered one of the most influential pieces of music from the 20th Century. However, you might not be familiar with Chinese choreographer and dancer Yang Liping, a visionary who has taken this work and brought it to the modern stage - but by the end of this review, you’ll be wishing you’d heard of her sooner.


In Stravinsky’s original work, he explores the notion of pagan ritual sacrifice in Russia, examining the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring. Yang Liping takes this idea and radicalises it, framing his work (Sacrifice) with two new sections: Incantation and Renewal. With this new interpretation, Rite of Spring is envisioned through Asian spiritual philosophies, symbols and aesthetics. It is now a story of Yin and Yang, of male-female, animal-human and nature-spirit, and how these worlds chaotically collide to create the permanent cycle of life and death. This boundary-pushing reimagining also has a fantastic feminist vision: rather than once again seeing women as the weak, unwilling sacrifices, our female protagonist chooses her own fate, volunteering her body for sacrifice for the good of her community. She is a strong woman that leaves this life with the knowledge that the cycle will continue, and there is life for her after this.


Throughout Rite of Spring, the strength of the female body and soul is pushed and challenged, but each time it returns victorious. Yang Liping’s choreography blends Chinese performance with thrilling acrobatics, martial arts, and raw dynamicism. Moments of extreme resilience are required from the performers as the music stops and we hear nothing but slamming feet and heavy breath in a durational presentation of pain and power. It is empowering to watch and completely captivating.


Captivating as well is Visual Director Tim Yip’s design, a visually arresting blend of ancient Chinese aesthetics and modern art. As another woman in the audience mentioned as she left, “Every time I thought it couldn’t get more epic, it did!” Rite of Spring’s design is an epic piece of art, and a lesson in design. Image after image presented to us is overwhelmingly stunning - memorable moments including The Boundless Sea of Suffering, the Thousand-Hand and Thousand-Eye Boddhisattva, and the breathtaking moment where the sacrifice becomes a Buddha, sparkling golden light falling from the sky and welcoming her to heaven. These are just a few moments in a production that continues to one-up itself with every scene.


This international creative team has revamped not only the storyline and the design, but also the music. The new sections feature a Tibetan-inspired score from Chinese composer He Xuntian, threading his modern ideas through Stravinsky’s traditional score and creating an electric synergy.


Yang Liping’s Rite of Spring is nothing short of impressive, and has taught Melbourne audiences just how grand performance can be. Bringing together 15 dancers in a brilliant performance that feels completely effortless, she is quickly making an international name for herself and it’s easy to see why. This work is only on until this Sunday, and I urge you to go and watch this incredible story before it’s gone.

Images Supplied


All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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