What a difference a hundred years makes. What was once so radical that it brought howling, whistling and cat calls in 1913—Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Nijinsky – brought only a yawn Friday night. To watch The Joffrey Ballet’s laborious reconstruction of the work down to the detailed costumes was to see the profound sea-change in what constitutes ballet today.
What was so radical about Le Sacre du Printemps or Rite a hundred years ago was that is was so unballetic. It was rough, relentless, primal. Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes took a huge risk, and the pandemonium that ensued is now legend.
Today the movement—feet that trample the ground with unbridled ferocity and with bodies hunched over—seems quite suited to the ritual. It is only Stravinsky’s devilishly complicated polyrhythmic score that still seems daring.
The audience at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House responded respectfully, but hardly enthusiastically. Perhaps the only oddity was the costumes, heavy and elaborate, and consisting of long socks laced in red, fur-trimmed towering hats, bulky jackets, and beards for the elders. While the dancing is intense, the neat ordering of groups—sometimes as many as five—made the ultimate sacrifice of the maiden all the more harrowing. She has no support and no exit.
Back in the present, The Joffrey Ballet, presented here by TITAS, offered two quite lovely and much more balletic works: Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence (2008) and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain (2005).
Inspired by the writings of Jane Austen (obviously not Edith Wharton!), Age of Innocence portrays only in delicate hints the social repression of the early 19th century. Men wear sleeveless jackets flared at the waist and white shorts, while the women wear long, flowing white gowns, or on occasion, the briefest of costumes. The setting is a ballroom whose deep red curtains are separated by black panels.
The dance consists of formal pairings in a ballroom, outbursts of powerful male struggle, lyrical pas de deux that suggest love and hopeless longing, and quiet, reflective, private moments in a bedroom. The mood shifts constantly, and sometimes with dramatic effect as when a dancer darts out from behind a red curtain and takes over the stage. This is a dance so complex, so layered and resonant with meaning that images are bound to linger in memory. To weave dance together with music from two composers—Philip Glass and Thomas Newman—was a remarkable feat in its own right.
Choreographers love Arvo Pärt’s music, and why not? It certainly fit Wheeldon’s After the Rain, with its striking and unconventional poses, its spare lines and swift shifts in direction. Three men lie on the floor as three women lean over them, the women’s legs shooting up like pistons. From this beginning, the dance evolves into complicated lifts and revolving turns. The second section changes mood with a pas de deux (Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels) that begins with the two swaying slowly side by side like two giant metronomes. At times they embrace in slow, curving, lush lifts and turns; at other times they go their separate ways, but ultimately they merge together. She falls backward to form a perfect upside-down U before he swims under her and then brings her gently into his arms.
In a life full of disappointments, After the Rain promises hope.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
◊ Click here to read our story about the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring music.