Sacre – Sasha Waltz & Guests: Sadler’s Wells, London, 12 November 2015

Fight for your Rite

Sasha Waltz & Guests spring into action for Sacre. Photo by Bernd Uhlig

Sasha Waltz & Guests spring into action for Sacre. Photo by Bernd Uhlig

Originally created for the Mariinsky Ballet in 2013, Sacre was Sasha Waltz’s contribution to the centenary celebrations of the infamous premiere of The Rite of Spring. She’s kept the primitive animalistic spirit of Nijinsky’s original choreography but yanked it screaming into a world used to the idea of violence as genteel stage spectacle.

It’s good, very good. Right from the start there’s an underlying sense of menace and discomfort. Packs of men hunt down women and hurl them about, pull them by their hair or drag them unconscious away from view. The women fight back; there’s a startling section where one of them wrestles a man to the floor, his face and body contorting in pain, but soon the men regain a semblance of control, albeit one that seems forever about to be overturned again.

Waltz has superb mastery over large groups of dancers, filling the stage with chaotic patterns and agonised groupings that harden the distress. The individual movements don’t tend to flow – there are heavy jumps, flailing arms and stop-start lifts – but when struck out in unison by small groups a claustrophobic momentum is created that, in cahoots with Stravinsky’s score, drives the piece forward.

The ending doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the build-up (a tough job for one naked dancer who just seems to collapse at the sight of a large spike descending from the ceiling) but it’s a tough, uncompromising and very exciting piece of work.

The evening had opened with another excellent remake of a Ballets Russes favourite, L’Après-midi d’un faune. 11 dancers prowled around the stage like drowsy animals on a hot day, full of long, languid stretches. That sleepiness subtly turned to sensuality as one guy and girl took an erotic interest in each other and we were suddenly presented with very human figures and emotions, emphasised by another woman’s lengthy application of lipstick.

The idea of humans being nothing more than animals is hardly groundbreaking but the transformation here was achieved with such finesse that it felt like a revelation. Waltz’s understanding and interpretation of Debussy’s music was also second to none and the seductive performance of Hwanhee Hwang would have the pope packing his bags. Absolutely brilliant.

In-between these two pieces we were treated to the softer pleasures of Scène d’Amour, a pretty duet that dealt with a love affair that had no deep-rooted conflict at its heart. The result was Lorena Justribó Manion running away in confusion, leaving a baffled Ygal Tsur all on his tod. There were some beautiful moments but things (obviously) didn’t really develop past the first kiss and you tended to find yourself wondering why Berlioz had taken all the drama out of his reading of Roméo et Juliette.

Sasha Waltz & Guest’s Sacre runs until 13 November 2015. Tickets can be bought on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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