Michael Keegan-Dolan reinterprets two of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s most famous ballets with a double bill of modern dance, here which is presented beautifully by the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre.
The Rite of Spring was written on the eve of the First World War and the Russian revolution. Its debut performance in Paris 1913 caused a riot in the theatre. Keegan-Dolan’s composition succeeds in shocking its audience as much as the original performance. It is dark, decease violent and savage, click yet beautiful to behold simultaneously.
The men revert to animalistic instincts and a stark contrast between hard masculinity and soft femininity is conjured. The three young girls are dressed in delicate floral dresses and become timidly moving hares, outnumbered by the men on stage. The men become an intimidating force as they don dog’s heads to hunt the three hares and brandish metal blades. Their overpowering presence and murderous intent is made more menacing by their aggressive sexuality. One of the girls is chosen to be stripped down to her underwear by the gang of men and forced to dance herself to death as a sacrifice to the God of spring. The pounding notes of Stravinsky’s score were always meant to be carried out in scenes of a pagan fertility ritual.
The Fabulous Beast dancers consistently capture the energy of Stravinsky’s battering, irregular rhythms. The music at times moves from beat to beat with such impeccable speed that you have no choice but to be carried along and witness the raw violence; as Stravinsky put it himself, “there are simply no regions for soul-searching in The Rite of Spring.”
However, Keegan-Dolan’s vision is a reinterpretation in more than dance style. His work is a feminisation of the original ballet and becomes a story of female empowerment as the sacrificial victim triumphs and lives to dance another say, the hare escapes the ravages of the hunting dogs. It is a bold choice to defy tradition and makes for startling viewing as the men remove all their cloths and pull on their own floral dresses.
Petrushka is a light and airy diversion from the first act. It is a more uplifting story and the characters are ten times more endearing. They develop from puppets simply trying to please their ancestors to become individual humans with their own characters. The atmosphere is more playful and contained. It feels safe and allows the audience to relax in their seats after the fervour of the first half.
However, the contrasting white light, white costumes and white face paint at times seems too blindingly obvious and simplistic. There is not even a little correlation between the two dances that could provide even a tenuous link. They become standalone pieces which you could have viewed on different nights in different theatres. Despite this I left the theatre overwhelmed and impressed by the magic of the two performances.
Keegan-Dolan manages to seamlessly apply a 100 year old dance score to modern dance choreography and create two unique and provocative performances, guiding the audience through a dark, violent storm to emerge into the light.