Review: The Rite of Spring/common ground[s] at Her Majesty’s Theatre

Review by Lia Cox


There are certain opportunities in life that are unmissable, and beholding Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring is one of those momentous occasions.


A German dancer and choreographer who was a significant contributor to a neo-expressionist dance tradition now known as Tanztheater, Bausch's approach was noted for a stylized blend of dance movement, prominent sound design, and involved stage sets, as well as for engaging the dancers under her to help in the development of a piece. Her work, regarded as a continuation of the European and American expressionist movements, incorporated many expressly dramatic elements and often explored themes connected to trauma, particularly trauma arising out of relationships. From this, she created the company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, which performs internationally to this day.


Her thrilling Frühlingsopfer (The Rite of Spring), created in 1975, caused a stir in the dance world with its stark depiction, in which the Chosen One is sacrificed to gratify the misogyny of the surrounding men, all while dancing on a stage entirely covered in soil.


Based on the ballet and orchestral concert work by composer Igor Stravinsky, The Rite is described by Stravinsky as ‘a musical-choreographic work representing pagan Russia, unified by a single idea; the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring.


A succession of choreographed episodes and broken into two parts – Adoration of the Earth, followed by The Sacrifice, The Rite explores and delves into the augurs of Spring, the ritual of abduction and rival tribes, glorification of the Chosen One and concluding with the Sacrificial Dance.


This program, a double bill of The Rite of Spring and common ground[s] is an extraordinary posthumous collaboration between Salomon Bausch [Pina’s son] and Germaine Acogny, the mother of African dance.


While Bausch and Acogny never directly worked together, they are now connected by one of the most pivotal and primeval scores and choreography of all time.


This new staging, a joint production between Pina Bausch Foundation, Ecole des Sables and Sadler’s Wells, brings one of Bausch’s greatest works to a new generation, using dancers from African countries.

38 incredible dancers, selected from an unparalleled audition process, from 14 nations across the continent, rehearsed for months at Acogny’s École des Sables in Senegal, with every gesture from the original production recreated through the dance practice of its distinctive African performers.

These dancers seemed particularly receptive to the music, relying less on technique and more on a total immersion in Bausch’s visceral response to the score and theme.

The women were soft and sinewy to begin with in their billowy beige slip dresses before breaking into passionate dance, sanctifying and becoming one with the earth beneath them.

The men enter, with both fluidity and ferociousness, where they all slap and beat their bodies while walking in circles.

An extraordinary motif of movement used to invoke the ancestors, left the women sweat stained, filthy and panting audibly.

The partner work during the Ritual Action of the Ancestors was unbelievable, where the men were throwing and catching their partners like ragdolls; perhaps signifying the crude objectification and lack of respect of women.

The intense finale, the Sacrificial Dance, performed by the Chosen One was wild and emotionally exhausting – and that was just as an audience member!

I cannot begin to fathom her state after carrying out this work.

Its remarkable companion piece, but offered as the first act, a tender remedy to the violence of The Rite of Spring, is a new work created and danced by Acogny herself with none other than Malou Airaudo, a founding member and icon of Bausch’s company. common ground[s] sees these two septuagenarians expressing in movement their lives as grandmothers, mothers, daughters and matriarchs of the dance world.

A slow pluck of a cello to begin, their movement is internal and expressive and demonstrates the significance of isolated, miniscule movements and the impact that has on an audience.

Incredible score by Fabrice Bouillon LaForest and lighting design by Zeynep Kepekli for common ground[s] with set and costumes by Rolf Borzik for The Rite of Spring, the entire creative and technical team should be, and so graciously were, applauded for their tremendous work on bringing this piece to life in Adelaide.

The Rite of Spring/common ground[s] is an absolute triumph, totally elemental, progressive and pertinent, even 45 years later.

Image Supplied