The UK premiere of Pina Bausch‘s The Rite of Spring took place at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1978 so it’s nicely fitting to see the piece spectacularly resurrected 25 years on. In this edition of the EIF, the classic work is paired with a new piece, common ground(s), created by the Pina Bausch Foundation, École des Sables in Senegal, and Sadler’s Wells.
The stage is lit as if at sunset, blood red fading to orange. Two figures are silhouetted, sitting side by side, looking into the light. The light brightens and we see one woman is black (Germaine Acogny, leading light in contemporary African dance) and one is white (Malou Airaudo who performed leading roles in many of choreographer Pina Bausch’s early works). The women stand and so begins common ground(s), a piece created by the two women to explore relationships, culture, what is shared, and what is unique.
It’s a fascinating piece that touches on differences in dance heritage and cultural expectations but is underpinned by a resounding faith in the power of women to connect on a human level. In their seventies, both dancers are older than many you may see on stage and there’s something beautiful in the celebration of age, wisdom, and strength in a world that continues to glorify the young.
Bausch’s Rite of Spring is set to Igor Stravinsky’s classic work; however, where the original ballet by Nijinksy saw one girl chosen from the group to dance herself to death, Bausch’s version flips the narrative to give us the perspective of the victim. Oh, and she locates it on a patch of bare earth. Opening with a sea of young women in white slip dresses, joined by a cocky swagger of a crowd of men in loose black pants, the choreography lands in a naturalistic middle ground between ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance. We have fluidly synchronised chorus work, beautiful duets, and the final heartfelt solo. It’s a stunning piece, presented by a cast of 32 dancers assembled from 14 African countries.