Friday, July 19, 2013

Fabulous Beast, 'The Rite of Spring': Pictures of Pagan Russia

Photo: Johan Persson

Black Box Theatre, Galway Arts Festival
Jul 15-20

Next festival stop: Galway Arts Festival, where Fabulous Beast are headlining proceedings with their double bill of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Petrushka.

Unfortunately, I had to leave in the interval before Petrushka in order to catch a bus so I won't be able to comment on experiencing both in tandem (would greatly appreciate you guys filling me in in the comments section).

My review of The Rite of Spring coming up just as soon as I bum a cigarette ...

Paris, 1913, and the audience are letting themselves rip as the strains of Igor Stravinsky's new composition for the Ballets Russes is heard in public for the first time. You see, ballet, til now, held a position as a romantic art form, with bodies flowing elegantly to sweet music.

But a melody could not be unscrewed from Stravinsky's mechanised score, and the darling dancer had now turned into a creature of sacrifice to satisfy a barbaric ritual. There was hissing and shouting, projectiles thrown at the orchestra. But a faction of the audience stamped their feet in beat with the performance, and remained to applaud several curtain calls. Some might say that modern dance was born that night.

One hundred years on and the audience for Fabulous Beast's imagining of the masterpiece is more complacent. Choreographer and director Michael Keegan-Dolan has also sought neater staging. A billowing composition encompassing oboes, bassoons and strings is condensed into a four-hand piano arrangement, performed deftly by two pianists. A sage woman with long grey hair pulls back a curtain, revealing an assembly of townspeople with Russian snow dropping overhead. They strike in time with the stamping chords, sending men and women scattering. The masses move mutinously, ascending upon a withered old man, and reverting to their most animal in the guise of rabbit and dog masks. Dancers strip naked and don dresses with flower patterns, announcing the arrival of glorious Spring. But such a blessing merits the sacrifice of a young woman.

For all of Keegan-Dolan's frantic choreography, there is a real lack of danger felt in this production, its savagery and wildness dialed way back. Its violence is getting lost somewhere between the matching of the music with the movement. This is especially felt in the finale, where the obliteration of the dancer sacrificed seems like it should slam the performance shut. Here it is unclear and thus anti-climatic.

Where once the Rite caused riot and revolution, here it is neat and complacent, like the outmoded romantic ballet that preceded it. One would have preferred a staging a little less fabulous and a little more fierce.

What did everybody else think?


  1. I love Stravinsky although ballet leaves me cold. Can't believe they only had a piano accompaniment. I mean, what's the point? A piano has no hope in hell of reproducing the gloriousness of eight French horns!

    (Nice review BTW)

  2. Loved this piece. True that it is not riot worthy (those days are long gone) but I personally felt the tension of impending sacrifice. I hadn't read up on the story before I went, but it was well communicated so that wasn't needed.

    The second half was joyful and high energy. Less of a narrative and more beautiful spectacle. I liked it but its probably best you were on your bus

  3. I agree entirely. It was very tame and I was bored. Second half was worse. Fuzzy and lacking punch. Standing ovation so they're pleasing someone.