Since The Rite of Spring’s notoriously raucous premiere just over a century ago, plenty of choreographers have turned to Stravinsky’s score and re-imagined rites of their own. Sasha Waltz’s version, Sacre – first performed in 2013 to mark the centenary of the original ballet – is a work of choreographic complexity and terrific, mesmerising power. The tribe of dancers converge to form a pulsating orgiastic huddle, only to disperse into protean formations.
Whirling circles of bodies are set alongside harsh, flat-footed jumps en masse. Pairs embrace and meld together; another couple descend into feral violence, tearing at each other. There’s a sinister urgency to much of the movement: a group of men that stalk the sides of the stage resemble a gaggle of monstrous birds, with their arms raised and hands pointed forward, beak-like. A single woman is dragged sideways across the space by a man, her arms helplessly hooked into his. Potential female sacrifices are identified and thrown like ragdolls into the air. Occasionally there are moments of menacing stillness as the music churns onward: a group suddenly forms a mysterious pattern, projecting their limbs at rigid angles.
When the tribe travels in unison, it’s a compelling vision – they move in a stomping shuffle, elsewhere crawling and slapping their chests against the stage. Throughout, the brutal cycle of life is made physical to great effect. There’s a fleeting movement in which all the women hunch, legs spread, panting. Later, once she’s been chosen, a tribe member presses his ear to the sacrificial victim’s stomach, as if listening for a heartbeat. (The addition of a couple of actual children on to the stage seems a bit unnecessary here, however.) As the victim, Maria Marta Colusi performs her dance to death with fierce and hopeless abandon. Fleeing the dust-scattered centre, she implores the gathered tribe: lunging forward, hands splayed, head thrust backwards in desperation. Unyielding, they shove her back to complete her exhausting fate.
Nobody can choreograph Debussy’s symphonic poem L’Après-midi d’un faun without invoking Nijinsky’s 1912 creation for the Ballets Russes, featuring the dancer himself as that famously orgasmic faun. Ecstatically arched backs are aplenty in Waltz’s version, which features eleven dancers in bright swimwear, set against a bold multicoloured backdrop. There are languorous couplings, and a single dancer in red swimming trunks who writhes alone, before his body is overtaken with tremors. With casual enervation, a man traces a drawing in lipstick on a woman’s crossed legs. It’s a work of weirdly seductive energy, if occasionally affected. By contrast, Scène d’Amour, an excerpt from Waltz’s full-length Romeo and Juliet set to Berlioz’s score, deploys an apparently artless naturalism to great effect. As the teenage lovers, Lorena Justribó Manion and Ygal Tsur shyly circle one another before their first tentative embrace. There’s a playful tenderness to the movement – on tip-toe they mime tightrope walking in tandem, while later she tugs Romeo’s leg out of its arabesque. These lovers remain earthbound, eschewing lifts of lofty altitudes and perfectly pointed feet. It’s an intimate, poignant duet.