• Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.
    Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.
  • 'Common Grounds'.
    'Common Grounds'.
  • Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.
    Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.
  • Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.
    Adelaide Festival performances of 'The Rite of Spring'. Photo: Andrew Beveridge.

Pina Bausch Company/Germaine Acogny & Malou Airaudo.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
Reviewed: March 4 

When Pina Bausch’s TanzTheater Wuppertal made its Australian début at the Adelaide Festival in 1982, it showed Pina’s experimental dance theatre works 1980, Blaubart and Kontakthof, making a huge impression that rippled through the Australian dance and theatre worlds. In the intervening years the company has brought several of her other dance theatre works to our shores, but never Bausch’s earlier pure dance works. What a joy it is to finally see her acclaimed version of The Rite of Spring, created in 1975 early in her tenure as director at Wuppertal, performed not by her own company, but by 38 dancers from across the African continent brought together expressly for the production by the Bausch Foundation and the Senegal-based Germaine Acogny, often dubbed the "Mother of African Dance".

The program begins with common ground[s], a duet by Acogny and Malou Airaudo: both dancers are aged in their 70s, with the latter a long-standing member of the Bausch company. As it begins they are seated on stools, their backs facing us and holding a pole upright between them, with Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting signalling the dawning of a new day as the sky turns from pink to blue. As the plucked strings of composer Fabrice Bouillon LaForest’s score commence, they lean in, embracing and cradling each other, before walking upstage, the stick transformed into an oar or a threshing implement.

A series of walks and runs ensues, with the emphasis on upper body movements, which range from the lyrical to the percussive. Their long, backless black gowns draw attention to their back musculature as they engage with props including buckets of water, a towel with which Airaudo wipes the floor, and the stones that Acogny uses to massage Airaudo’s back. The mood is meditative, and the quotidian nature of their tasks suggests the ordinariness of a life lived together, daily chores interspersed with moments of tenderness and estrangement. While there are some exquisite moments and images, the duet is somewhat unfocused, and the running time of approximately 30 minutes feels too long.

After a lengthy and entertaining intermission during which a large crew distributes numerous bins of dirt over the stage, in full view of the audience who applaud enthusiastically, Bausch’s work begins. A sidelight picks out a young woman prone on a red cloth on the dirt, her torso convulsively grinding into the earth. To the notes of Stravinsky’s haunting bassoon solo, female dancers run across the stage to down-lit spots, pausing to raise their pale silken slips over their heads. The prone woman rises, and the red cloth becomes an object of dread and fascination, changing hands rapidly as the women run in diagonals and clusters, lyrical upper body movements alternating with abrupt clenching of fists into abdomens, deep plies à la seconde, and abrupt downward movements of the torso.

A sharp gender divide structures Bausch’s version, the woman uniformly clothed in pale slips, the men bare-chested in black pants; the power invested in the men, and the dread and fear invested in the women, from whom the sacrificial victim will be chosen. As the atavistic ritual unfolds, the men’s movement is the more percussive, stomping their feet and bouncing their knees, yet at times the sexes dance together in a more equable relation. The entire cast forms a circle and collapses to the ground repeatedly, couples pair off and men and women cross the stage in intersecting diagonals. Bausch’s patterning is mesmerizing, especially when viewed from the dress circle, seeming to give visible form to Stravinsky’s unforgettable music.

The victim – finally chosen – is forced to wear the red cloth, which turns out to be a chemise that leaves her breast bare, and then dragged terrified from grouping to grouping, who stare at her, both fascinated by her impending doom and relieved at their own reprieve. The tension mounts as she frenetically dances herself to death, and the moment her body finally crashes to the ground is heart-stopping.

The dancers are magnificent: while obviously not ballet trained, there is an individuality and power to their dancing that make Bausch’s Rite into an authentic ritual in which we are also transfixed participants. This is a stunning production, and an incredibly worthy, if overdue, opener to the 2022 Adelaide Festival.


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