RVA Ballet’s ‘City Life’ shines with modern & ground-breaking paired performance
If there was anything indicative of how perfectly tied together the two pieces performed at Richmond Ballet’s Studio 3 last night, it might’ve been the choreographer’s introductory comments concerning the creation of a (choreographic) language with which to tackle composer Steve Reich’s City Life.
His words seemed to effectively lip-sync what we believe the original choreographer of the Rite of Spring (ROS), Vaslav Nijinsky, must’ve been saying. And their tasks in bringing to life movement within and around the unprecedentedly unfamiliar musics.
Now, I’m personally no stranger to atonality, marked shifts in timbre or unconventional harmony and in fact, I enjoy these things specifically before others in my listening. But this allowed me to hear the way Reich’s blend of instrument-like sounds echoed Stravinsky’s implementation of usual instruments made to play in unusual ranges. It was a nearly unrecognizable just means that the ballet’s artistic director Stoner Winslett’s last remark was only partly true.
These two pieces may, in content and theme, be of disparate human societies in audience, however the aesthetics of the two musical pieces are found very much adjacent on the same great map. Not unlike the hustle and bustle of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” the screaming rush and angular architecture of City Life are just as recognizable and urban as is the pounding traffic of ROS’s “Battle of the Clansmen” and even its massive density overall.
Indeed, at one point during the beginning of the later half of City Life, the sampled clip stuttered into an aggressive almost head-banging hip-hop pulse that allowed a visible enthusiasm from these brilliant and classically trained dancers.
I wasn’t around for ROS’s premiere (although 72 years later, to the day, I was born) but I imagine the same sort of excitement on the faces of the Ballets Russes. And although I’m certainly no expert on ballet, I feel that the dancers enjoyed themselves in ways they hadn’t before, night of the world premiere enthusiasm aside.
Their incorporation of such everyday movements into the more traditional vocabulary of ballet performance was just captivating.
It really felt modern in a way that kept me thinking that this was something- dare I say- ground-breaking. Now if this doesn’t prove a fantastic bond between the two halves of this wonderful show, I guess it only proves how primal-like choreographer Mark Annear (Melbourne, Australia) was inspired to ask this of the group.
The visual-modernity fire was further stoked with great “outfits” representing the layers of dress for that certain city dawn-to-dusk that it captured. And to cap, I very much appreciated the beginning and ending in the dimly lit room.
As far and as deep as Le Sacre du Printemps goes, the company’s visual elements were stellar.
The opening measures found the lone figure interacting dramatically on her own with tall featureless columns that, accentuated with ROS’s opening chaos, suddenly birthed faces appearing to scream through the sheets before the body responsible appeared. As someone familiar with playing the actual music of The Rite of Spring, I’ve always felt that the “Adoration of the Earth’s (Part 1)” rhythmic energy was the site of most of my favorite sections in the entire piece, in that I think the excitement of Part 1′s music is more apparent.
It’s still very complicated but more accessible than Part 2′s complex genius. And the “Birth of the Young Warrior,” not being strictly from the music or even title translations, still finds a very natural home in the chronology of the story.
Having seen the centennial performance, The Dance of the Maidens in the beginning of “The Sacrifice (Part 2)” still remained (another) one of my favorite parts, as the musical physicality reaches perhaps its daintiest and most elegant across the piece.
The lovely female ensemble was as enchanting as I’d imagine the ancient Slavic women happily dancing their traditions were.
Although I found the recording used for the performance to be slightly imbalanced; too exaggerated for the faster parts and for the slower parts, anyone with experience with this music knows the experience isn’t really about balance. It’s about brutally honest emotion and power, and these things I felt resounding with me the whole ride home.
I have much faith in the ability of this piece’s strength to survive all the ages, and along with such a fantastically original and contemporary pairing as Annear’s City Life, this is a bite of old and new that you don’t want to miss.
Photo: Richmond Ballet in Salvatore Aiello’s ‘The Rite of Spring’.”Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
“If you have talent or not, if you are willing to work, I want to teach you,”January 12, 2017
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