RITES OF SPRING/PETRUSHKA at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Director & Choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
With a stark monochrome setting and virtually no scenery, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s double bill, set to the powerful music of Igor Stravinsky, is contemporary dance with a vengeance. There is little or no acknowlegement paid to earlier balletic arrangements in the choreography. That is, perhaps, how it should be. What is lacking, however, in Michael Keegan- Dolan’s version, is clarity of context and relevance to the music. Despite the programme notes, some members of the audience were left floundering.
That is not to say, however, that these two pieces of dance theatre do not have merit. In Rites of Spring, Stravinsky’s vision of a solemn pagan rite with sacrifices to the god of spring, Keegan-Dolan uses the rhythmic elements of the music as a backdrop to violent scenes portraying pagan fertility rites ending in human sacrifice. At one point everyone strips – male dancers down to the buff while female members of the cast are permitted to retain bra and pants. Floral dresses are put on – and taken off again. A man gets murdered (why? Because he’s old, of course.}
Some spectacular dancing here, hard, exciting and physically testing, from both male and female members of the 14-strong International cast. While it is difficult to single out individuals, as the full cast are used throughout, mention must be made of one or two: Louise Mochia manages to remain graceful at all times, with lissom movements even when the pace is frenetic, while Anna Kaszuba displays amazing energy, coping with the considerable effort and expertise that the programme demands,
On the male side, there are striking elements, such as the wide-legged jumps done in unison while balancing cardboard boxes, cartwheels, somersaults, rhythmic stamping et al – some sequences are threatening and violent. This is not for the squeamish.
Petrushka, in the second half provides some light relief after the difficult first half. Petrushka was composed in 1911, and balletomanes will be familiar with the traditional ballet, which tells of a traditional Russian puppet, Petrushka, made of straw and sawdust, who comes to life. Again, Keegan-Dolan’s take brooks no quarter, paying no homage to the original apart from covering the dancers’ faces in dense white make- up like puppets. The cast displays wonderful fluidity of movement in this half, which is altogether more accessible, although there are still some shocks.
Despite the power of the dance, the strength and sheer volume of Stravinsky’s score tends at times to overwhelm the dancers, which is perhaps not surprising, given that it was conceived originally as a concert work. It was that great dancer Diaghilev who, back in 1910, persuaded him otherwise, resulting in the performances that caused much outraged comment back in the early 20th century. Despite the clever concept which it undoubtedly is, the same might be said of Keegan-Dolan’s version.
Run: April 8 & 9