Thoughts on Pina Bausch’s ‘Rite of Spring’

Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring has always fascinated me. I had seen her production on video in 1989 but never in the flesh. What I had seen in the flesh was the famous (or infamous) Nijinsky version, the original Rite of Spring, as restaged by Kenneth Archer and Millicent Hodson for the Joffrey Ballet, as well as Maurice Bejart’s Rite of Spring danced by the Tokyo Ballet. But the Bausch version kept haunting me, largely because in my mind it was closely connected with Meryl Tankard who had made such an impact in Canberra with her Meryl Tankard Company between 1989 and 1992. The opportunity to see, at last, a live production of the Bausch version arose in early 2008 when Tanztheater Wuppertal was visiting London. At the time I made some brief, random notes in the hope that one day they would be useful in some context:

  • Stravinsky did not dominate, such was the power of Bausch’s choreography. The movement was so expressive of changes in rhythm, sonority, volume and so forth that the music and movement became powerful partners. There was an organic relationship between the music and the choreography, which seems to be missing in the Hodson/Archer reconstruction.
  • This was much more ‘pure dance’ than in any other of Bausch’s works that I had seen and as such it displayed the great technical prowess of her dancers. Not only are they actors in the mode of dance theatre but they are also dancers of the highest order. Dancing in unison they were breathtaking as they were when displaying their capacity to become totally involved in the unfolding of the drama, almost to the extent of entering into a trance like state. Their classical training was clearly in evidence – they could jump, they were turned out, they could extend their limbs. They danced with the whole body and each part of the body was allowed to be expressive to the utmost degree.
  • Looking beyond technique, their shudders, their shaking, their actions of fear and panic built to emotional crescendo after emotional crescendo. One of the most moving moments occurred when the whole stage was filled with frenzied bodies sometimes rushing past each other, sometimes hugging each other giving not just the feeling of impending disaster but of the capacity of human beings to offer support to others.
  • Although it seemed so much like ‘pure dance’, the dancers’ gasps, sighs, and other ‘verbal’ outpourings of exhaustion, panic and fear, were given a place in the work. They were never intrusive. They were gut wrenching and such an essential part of the overpowering drama of the situation.
  • Bausch has an eye for the structure of movement and for arranging bodies over the space of the stage. Whether she arranges the dancers into one or two or several tightly knit groups, or has them move around the stage in one large circle, or scatters them apparently randomly over the stage space with each dancer performing individually, the effect is always powerful and always harmonious.
  • The ‘chosen one’ was a tiny Filipino girl who stood out from the beginning as if she knew it was her destiny to be selected from among the females. She seemed overpowered by the red dress that the victim must wear as she tossed it to others. It was as if it were burning through her. As a powerful foil to the huge emotional involvement by the ‘chosen one’, the male who made the choice played the role almost without emotion. Lying on the floor motionless with his arms stretched forward as if waiting to receive her, or dressing her in the red dress, his back to the audience, his movements were solid, steady and totally without feeling.

I saw Rite of Spring performed at Sadler’s Wells, London, by Tanztheater Wuppertal on 20 February 2008 (with Café Müller as the other work on the program). I wish now, almost eighteen months later, that I had written more.

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2009

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Pina Bausch’s ‘Rite of Spring’

  1. Dear Michelle,
    I am a teacher at a secondary school
    I read your thoughts on the Rites of Spring choreographed by Pina Bausch and wondered if you would know if there is a DVD available of the entire dance? I have seen the video clip on Youtube and would like my senior students to study this dance.
    Regards,
    Kit Suuring

  2. I have seen footage in the Dance Division of the New York Public Library but have not seen the full work on commercially available DVD. However, I did discover a possible source: http://theatreandfilmbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&products_id=15992&language=enhttp://theatreandfilmbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&products_id=15992&language=enhttp://theatreandfilmbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&products_id=15992&language=en

    A very long URL! I can’t guarantee that you will get it but it looks promising.

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