With Rite of Spring being staged as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, my eye was drawn to this production, which claimed to have elements of Stravinsky’s masterpiece – at least, conceptually – as its inspiration. In reality, it was more of a Requiem than a Rite, but no less powerful in effect. Also, there was little musically-related to Stravinsky, apart from one reference which I will come to shortly.
Musically, this was quite a mixed bag. In ballet (at least in the days of Stravinsky/Diaghilev) it is usual for the music to come first, the choreography next. I would summarise this production as a dance show in search of a musical score. The best sections were those where there was little or no background music.
The work was punctuated by two repeating soundscapes: the heavy beat of a heart, and the sound of the sea. These were aural metaphors, of life as a cycle and a pulsating force, that were perfectly matched by the movement of the six dancers and the mirrored boxes that each had as a prop.
The mirror-boxes became part of their ever-changing stories, reflecting, narrating, challenging and even subverting. They also threw light around the bare set, and at one point reflected the audience back at itself in an almost immersive gesture.
Talking of gestures, the vocabulary of movement was immensely augmented by facial expressions, mime, breathing noises, vocal effects, and seriously good acting. The emotional canvass was mind-boggling, heart-warming, and deeply stirring. Forgive my cliché, but this was a rich tapestry: the sort of production I could see again and again and feel there was more to ponder and fathom and understand.
As an ensemble piece, it was flawless. Every dancer (I want to say ‘actor’) played their part within the structure of an incredibly moving corps. In each vignette, an individual became separated from the group (perhaps to illustrate the ‘chosen’ character, although as I’ve said, this was not the sacrificial theme of the Ballets Russes) but was re-integrated into the ensemble at the next section.
The point of this piece was to examine attitudes surrounding mortality, rather than death and sacrifice, and in this way there was something celebratory and satisfying about the language. My problem with the music, then, was that it detracted from what was being presented. Music can often be a distraction, especially when it comes with words.
I found myself trying to interpret one ‘scene’ in relation to the Latin words, ‘et in terra pax’ (‘and in earth, peace’) while also wondering about the music (it was Vivaldi’s Gloria.) Similarly, in the excerpts from Strauss’s Four Last Songs. Of course, I’m being a snob… I felt the same way when Carmina Burana was used to sell after-shave. As for Torville and Dean’s Bolero – don’t get me started!
If I’m being harsh, it’s probably unjustified. The music was well-chosen, and if Pina Bausch can have chairs thrown around to the sound of a Purcell aria, there’s no reason why this piece shouldn’t interpret the ‘Lacrimosa’ (meaning, tears) from Mozart’s Requiem without weeping so much as exaggerated open-mouthed (silent) yelling.
Nonetheless, the best musical allusion came early on in the work, with five of the dancers performing a foot-stamping routine that I can only assume related to the heavy, rhythmic thumping, down-bowed staccato section in part one of Stravinsky’s ballet-music.
With a cast of such impressive dancers/actors, stunning choreography, and excellent technical back-up, I wonder if this production is destined for greater fortunes. Perhaps a 21st Century Stravinsky could write an original score?
You can see The Chosen at Dance Base Studio 1 until 25th August at 17:00. For tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/