The Rite Resists Dance
Thumbnail Review, March 9th
March 11, 2013 10:45:30 PM EDT
How can the most famous dance score of the 20th Century, The Rite of Spring, resist choreography? It does, easily. I watched a solo pianist, Neil Alexander play his arrangement of the score on an amplified upright piano at the corner of the stage of the Alvin Ailey Theater in New York (thank you Citigroup!) while a dance troupe (Jonathan Riedel Dance Theater) did a lot of things with seven dancers, one, a man with a vicious looking stage knife or alternatively a German cross as pendant. A lot happened.
With all this action going on, my eyes and ears were still glued to the music Sometimes the amplified sound distorted. Mostly it sounded as familiar as a Brahms lullaby. It was just lovely piano music, not spectacle, or dissonant blockbuster. (I remember an L.A Philharmonic performance of it at the Disney auditorium where I was seated behind the stage, almost falling into the brass section as I swooned to their hypnotic choiring.) This was not like that. It was more like delicate Chopin traceries with occasional big bangs. Wonderful bangs, still 100 years later! And the gorgeous achingly beautiful slow dance in Eb-minor-ish: “Spring Rounds.” I could listen to that section over and over again. Maybe I’ll make that happen.
It’s been going around during this 100th anniversary of its premiere, that the booing and hissing in Paris was to Nijinsky’s choreography, not Igor’s music. How would we know? Maybe I need to see a few more dance versions before I proclaim that the score will always resist its dance interpretation—because of the mind-numbing stupidity of a “pagan ritual” with female sacrifice as its coup de grace.
It’s dumb 19th Century imaginary “anthropology,” romantic primitivism put out, I think, to rationalize the great innovative break that Stravinsky made, and foisted on a conservative culture. Perhaps that insufferable pagan ritual context was the reason the Riedel interpretation overlayed it with another story, the program notes told me, from a 13th Century Swedish folktale. Relief! when the dance ended with an embrace instead of a sacrifice. I predict that only a miracle will find a dance that matches the music and satisfies all senses.