Modlin Center’s “A Rite” Creates a Rubik’s Cube of Complexities
We all know the story well. Paris, The Ballet Russe, Nijinsky, Stravinsky, and the stampede of an outraged audience. The Rite of Spring, first shown in 1913, mixed grounded choreography, inharmonious chords, and a virgin sacrifice, igniting one of the most well known riots in history.
As The Rite of Spring concluded its centennial year, the celebration of this controversial work led to numerous variations performed around the world, even a commendable version from our very own Richmond Ballet.
Last Thursday night, within the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, artistically directed by Bill T. Jones and associate artistic director Janet Wong, and SITI Company, artistically directed by Anne Bogart, unveiled their own theatrical adaptation with A Rite.
The hour-long piece, created collaboratively by Bogart, Jones, and Wong, showed glimmers of familiar choreography, but this was not a reprise of The Rite of Spring; it was a memory of its composition.
War stories from Will Bond, the PTSD struggling veteran, and the charming historical narration from Ellen Lauren created a landscape where text, music, and movement were perfectly disjointed.
The piece itself seemed to start in the middle as the performers commanded the stage immediately. Their movement was quick, syncopated, and daring. The percussiveness of clapping, stomping, and vocals created a ferocious score for the choreography to counter attack. You feel quite literally in the middle of a riot right from the start.
As the piece continues, themes begin to thicken. Time signatures, repetitive movements, and the use of stillness have their own rhythm here. The pathways become clocks, stools create an infinite stairway, and for a moment near the conclusion of the piece, the bodies of decayed dancers scattered on the stage implies that time has actually stopped.
In true Bill T. Jones style, A Rite is picturesque. Moments are framed like a memory book as the performers shift from scene to scene. The reminiscences that occur are intentional and direct. Gestures, walking patterns, militant language, and dissonant chords are repeated and woven throughout the piece. These memories, while altered or perhaps remembered exactly, become the constant. They are reminders that moments in life overlap.
The text, consisting of an eclectic grouping of excerpts from Brian Greene, Werner Herzog, Jonah Lehrer, Severine Neff, WWI vets, and Shuntaro Tanikawa’s “In The Spring,” are filled with historical context, testimonials, and existential theory. The actors recite these words fluently while the dancers’ delivery felt slightly forced. The reverse is also true in terms of movement. While both sets of performers were skillfully showcased in their own discipline, the use of athletic choreography seemed limited.
A Rite’s greatest success is in its ability to create a Rubik’s cube of complexities. While Stravinsky’s score remains the basis of the piece, the fragmented form in which it was presented allows the audience to piece together their own “rite.”
Rebecca A. Ferrell, a native of Richmond, Virginia, is a dance educator, choreographer and performer. She is currently the artistic director of FDANCE, a project dedicated to her work as an intervention dance artist. Rebecca holds a BFA in Dance and Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University as well as a MFA in Dance from Arizona State University. She is currently adjunct faculty at VCU Dance and is in charge of dance curriculum at John Tyler Community College. When she is not dancing, Rebecca is making cupcakes, breaking hearts, and obsessing over the color pink.
“If you have talent or not, if you are willing to work, I want to teach you,”January 12, 2017
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