I went to see the final performance of the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre company’s interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Petrushka at Sadler’s Wells. I had already seen a more classic version of the Rite of Spring, and therefore knew how controversial and innovative a ballet it was. However this interpretation really pushed the boundaries of even the most controversial ballets, and I was throughly impressed how courageous the company had been in their two performances. The most notable change made in both of the ballets was the lack of orchestra. Stravinsky’s original score was downsized to just one piano, played on stage by two musicians. This suited the deconstructed and shortened ballet’s, while still keeping the interesting chords and rhythms of the original music.
The Rite of Spring
The first performance of the evening was the interpretation of the Rite of Spring. For those who don’t know, Stravinsky’s ballet was first performed in 1913 with choreography by Nijinsky. There is little plot in the ballet, it is more a representation of rural Russian society in Spring, with themes of celebration, fortune-telling, ritual and sacrifice creating a very loose narrative. The original performance was so controversial and avant-garde both musically and choreographically that it caused near riots in Paris. This new interpretation kept these themes, and elements of the original choreography – in particular stomping, writhing, and a much more grounded use of the body as opposed to traditional ballet. The synchronicity of movement was extremely impressive, and the dancers were very aware of the relationship between the music and the choreography. The new elements brought in by this interpretation were very interesting: the entire ballet was shortened to just 45 minutes, and the absurdist elements were increased. The dancers donned animal heads at various points in the ballet, and stripped down to nothing in order to change into floral dresses while dancing around, what I assumed to be, the chosen sacrifice, who was in a bra and pants… It’s safe to say that in general the performance played hugely on the surreal elements of the original ballet. The dancers were fantastic, and clearly comfortable in their performances despite the explicit and confusing nature of the ballet. The interpretation was very clever and an innovative take on an already very interesting ballet.
Having never seen Petrushka before I was unaware that there is in fact quite a defined narrative for this ballet, first performed in 1911. The ballet is based around the story of the traditional Russian puppet Petrushka and the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras celebrations. This did not come through in this interpretation, however overall I enjoyed the second half of the night much more. The set was transformed with white hangings forming walls, and the cast entered, casting off their colourful clothes of the previous performance in favour of entirely white garments. During the (again very shortened) ballet the dancers gradually had their faces painted white, clearly marking the Puppet. There was a lot more choreography in Petrushka, with the dancers showing a greater deal of skill, and more of the dancers given the chance to demonstrate their own personal styles. I found this more enjoyable than the Rite of Spring purely because I felt the dancing really came into its own, and I was able to appreciate the dancers’ pure skill more, even if I didn’t understand the narrative.
Overall, the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre lived up to its name – their interpretations were strange, beautiful and intriguing!