A near-weekly ritual has embedded itself in the news cycle since the beginning of social distancing measures. Following each weekend, photos of beachgoers crowded together on the shore will plaster CNN and social media feeds as angry commenters gawk and express outrage at this wreckless recreational activity. The romantic idyll of the beach has soured into a place of fear, anger, and disease.
But for those who wish to vicariously experience a positive reassociation of serenity with the beachside, enter Dancing at Dusk: A Moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring, a Senegal-based dance company’s 40-minute rendition of the late choreographer’s 45-year-old work. The temporary ensemble of dancers from 14 different African countries filmed their last rehearsal of the piece before their international tour was cancelled by the pandemic.
The original Rite of Spring ballet was written by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in 1913 for a Parisian dance company. Every version of the ballet culminates in a young maiden dancing herself to death as part of a pagan sacrifice. In 1975, German choreographer Pina Bausch’s modern dance interpretation on a dirt-covered stage emphasized the sexual violence of the ritual; Bausch and The Rite of Spring have been synonymous ever since. The pan-African restaging, presented by Sadler’s Wells, the Pina Bausch Foundation, and the École des Sables, was meant to recontextualize the work and bring it to new audiences.
“For me, The Rite of Spring should be danced by African dancers because it is something universal. When I first heard the Stravinsky music, I felt it was an African rite,” explained École des Sables co-founder Germaine Acogny.
Dancing at Dusk, filmed on a beach in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, doesn’t start with any actual dancing. The first few minutes of the recording show the director and crew of the film shoot giving last-minute directions. They try to hurry the dancers to their starting positions before the precious remaining rays of golden hour dip into night. As with many other projects forced into the digital realm by COVID, the process has become part of the product.
“Normally this is behind a curtain and we are not supposed to see you,” says co-artistic director Jorge Puerta Armenta into a microphone. “In the vid’ now, we’re gonna see you . . . so don’t stretch. Don’t think you are not seen.”
The company of dancers seem to be of the environment as they wait for the piece to begin. The women’s flowy dresses are a translucent, pale pink just a few shades rosier than the sand while the men only wear loose, long black pants. The relationship between the dancers and their location only grows more intimate once the piece starts with a woman writhing softly face down in the sand. Over the course of the next half-hour as grains mash into their hair and stick to the sweat on their bodies, the ensemble further becomes one with the beach.
Dancing at Dusk alternates between restraint and freedom as the dancers push into and out of groups – huddling, then rushing away. Industrial synchronized movement splits off into stationary hops. A bright bundle of coral cloth becomes a panic-inducing hot potato passed from one woman to the next until they collapse into each other like crushed petals. After a series of graceful leaps the women stand apart, trembling, the men only able to grab their shoulders to check on their condition.
What follows is a period of now-forbidden touching that feels too raw and private to watch after months away from the sensations of cramping against other passengers on the train or tapping someone’s arm at the grocery store. The dancers flit from partner to partner, not so much hugging as reaching for someone to momentarily latch onto, their arms like rope twining around another body. They give a touch we can no longer exchange with one another, give concern in their movement that we can no longer physically convey.
It’s not until the end of the piece, after the camera pulls back and the crew steps, applauding, into frame that the dancers embrace for real. Congratulating each other for the last time before their troupe prematurely disbands, the ensemble continues to demonstrate the physical and metaphorical act of leaning on one other. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has stopped playing, but the dance is not over.
Dancing at Dusk: A Moment with Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring composed by Igor Stravinsky. Directed by Florian Heinzen-Ziob. Artistic Directors: Josephine Ann Endicott and Jorge Puerta Armenta. Featuring Rodolphe Allui, Sahadatou Ami Touré, Anique Ayiboe, Korotimi Barro, D’Aquin Evrard Élisée Bekoin, Gloria Ugwarelojo Biachi, Luciene Cabral, Khadija Cisse, Sonia Zandile Constable, Rokhaya Coulibaly, Inas Dasylva, Astou Diop, Serge Arthur Dodo, Franne Christie Dossou, Estelle Foli, Aoufice Junior Gouri, Zadi Landry Kipre, Bazoumana Kouyaté, Profit Lucky, Vuyo Mahashe, Babacar Mané, Vasco Pedro Mirine, Stéphanie Mwamba, Florent Nikiéma, Shelly Ohene-Nyako, Brian Otieno Oloo, Harivola Rakotondrasoa, Oliva Randrianasolo, Asanda Ruda III, Tom Jules Samie, Amy Collé Seck, Pacôme Landry Seka, Gueassa Eva Sibi, Carmelita Siwa, Armel Gnago Sosso-Ny, Amadou Lamine Sow, Didja Kady Tiemanta, and Aziz Zoundi.
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