When Rite of Spring first premiered in Paris in 1913, the music and the dance proved so…strange and bizarre that it allegedly sparked a riot, resulting in 40 people being removed or arrested. Accounts vary. Either way, the music proved so outlandishly new and strange, and the dancing so modern and far removed from “Ballet” that it must’ve struck some chords with the audience of the time.
Pointless’ Rite of Spring sparked no such riot, but definitely fits in with the lexicon and aesthetic that this company has been pushing forward since their inception.
First and foremost, while waiting for the doors to open, several paintings commissioned for the piece can be viewed up close, several of which make it into the show later as projections, but the paintings themselves speak deeply of the primal nature of the piece to come.
Having once played the orchestral score for Le Sacre Du Printemps, I’m intimately aware of the difficulty of the music. It is rough, wild, atonal and strange. Discernible patterns emerge only briefly. Igor Stravinsky, the composer, seemed almost blatantly disdainful of the music of his time, writing in strange harmonies and accents. The score boasts clashing melodies and harmonies, asymmetrical accents to keep the listener constantly off balance. It is, without context, a difficult piece to listen to, even harder to play, and I imagine, even harder to dance.
And to that end, the ensemble of dancers throw themselves into the frenetic chaos of the music. (in program order: Anne Flowers, Eirin Stevenson, Elizabeth Ung, Janine Baumgardner, Acacia Danielson, Emmanuella Enemor, Sara Herrera, Sadie Leigh, Anna Lynch, Sharalys Silva Vazquez and Deidre Staples). Every member of the ensemble flung themselves, body and soul, into the demanding performance. From my vantage, each dancer was as strong as the next. It seemed as if, through the chaos of the piece, their breath and hearts remained in sync. Choreographer Kathy Gordon’s choreography flows beautifully with the music, at times evoking ancient yet timeless ferocity, while at others settling into a quiet, tense, yet peaceful discomfort. Again, with the music so atonal at times, and so rhythmically intense at others, Gordon’s choreography impressed me to no end. Notably, it also seemed to gel well with the moments of violence, provided by Lex Davis in the Fight Choreography.
There is also something to be said about “Beauty in ugliness”. Rite of Spring when it premiered, and to this day, challenges the notion of “What is beautiful”, and it seems that the Pointless Team truly embraced that with a sense of fearlessness that few other artists seem to even attempt. The music is strange, the dancers embraced the “ugliness” of their motions. At no point did it feel like anyone was trying to “Make” a piece of choreography or a moment of music or a moment of stage “appear beautiful”; they simply dove into the truth of each moment and embraced that “ugliness” to such a degree that it in itself became beautiful. That choice is to be wholeheartedly applauded.
Rite of Spring begins in that ugly world, where mankind has torn apart its home, leaving nothing but a vast, scorched wasteland.
Director Matt Reckeweg’s staging proved to be quite swift, purposeful, and vital. Working with the sparse set, he, Gordon, and the ensemble worked some absolutely beautiful stage magic. It seemed as if it were a dancing “sleight of hand”. I would focus my eyes on something, turn to see something else, and upon return, a knife had appeared. Or a column. Or masks. It seemed as if the ensemble of women could produce things by magic.
The Rite of Spring
closes May 27, 2018
Details and tickets
Lighting designer Mary Keegan likewise worked some magic with very little. Dance Loft on 14th does not provide too terribly much in terms of lighting apparatus, yet Keegan manages to transform the space time and time again with a simple switch of the lights. In fact, perhaps my favorite moment of the show married staging, choreography, music, and lights into one absolutely amazing image. As the set designer, the sparseness of the set provided by a single pedestal/well/platform and a backdrop of a barren and broken world (painted by Jean Yang), setting the tone and timbre for the night.
They worked in beautiful tandem with Frank Labowivitz’s deceptively “simple”, but very thoughtful costuming. They wore flowing, free clothes, which captured and accentuated their movements as they flowed, cavorted, or raged about the stage. Most of the dancers wore their hair down, and all wore perfectly natural styles of hair, which bounced about wildly through the dances, only adding to the fierce aesthetic of the show.
Amy Kellett’s puppets, the two in the whole show, were likewise phenomenal. The Tribal Elder, with her staff, proved to be such a beautifully crafted puppet, articulated excellently by various members of the ensemble, proved breathtakingly lifelike.
The only technical elements I didn’t fully embrace were the projections and video. Oddly, while they helped with some story moments by bringing the “world” around the dancers to life a bit, it almost felt…unnecessary? I understood the chaos, but I found myself wishing that I could focus more on the ensemble, but time and time again my eyes were drawn to the projections. It’s an odd criticism, I admit, but in cooking, one does not want too many elements to stand out at once, otherwise one has a dish that clashes, losing the power of some flavors. In this case, there were many moments where the projections felt a distraction.
Throughout all this, the marriage of technical elements with the performance served to be intense and provoking, just like the music and the story that they served.
Ultimately my biggest criticism is that the piece is a mere 34 minutes long. I imagine, for the performers, that it is both marathon and sprint, but as audience, I found myself longing for so much more of this aesthetic, of this story with all of its themes and messages. This is not a show to be missed, and while I find that I adored it, I also secretly hope that it’s as divisive as the original. I wish no riots on anyone, but it’s certainly a piece that could spark a conversation or ten, once one weathers the onslaught of art and has had some time to breathe.
Rite of Spring . Directed by Matt Reckeweg . Cast: Anne Flowers, Eirin Stevenson, Elizabeth Ung, Janine Baumgardner, Acacia Danielson, Emmanuella Enemore, Sara Herrera, Sadie Leigh, Anna Lynch, Sharalys Silva-Vazquez, Deirdre Staples . Choreography: Kathy Gordon . Fight Choreography: Lex Davis . Lighting & Scenic Design: Mary Keegan . Costume Design: Frank Labovitz . Puppet & Props Design: Amy Kellett . Mask Design: Nick Martin . Sound Design: Michael Winch . Dramaturg: Medha Marsten . Mixed Media/Installation Design: Patty Rangel . Video Programming: Navid Azeez & Devin Mahoney . Featured paintings: Jean Yang . Stage Manager: Sally Burgos, assisted by Caolan Eder . Production Management: Josie Felt & Lex Davis . Produced by Pointless Theatre . Reviewed by Jon Jon Johnson.