Sunday, March 25, 2007


What is the Rite of Spring without the bassoon? What is the Rite without the flutes and piccolos? What is the Rite without the double basses and cellos frenzied chunk-chunk-CHUNK-chunkchunk? What is the Rite of Spring piano four-hands version? Just what -- the hell -- is that -- about?

Once I finally calmed down, I decided that the Sacre sans orchestre was essentially the Rite without color. The piano is a fantastic colorbox, but the opening of the Rite of Spring? Give me the bassoon! It saturates the ear with its seductive, nimble call. The piano version, by comparison, sounds a little washed out, and the decision to use it colored (or decolored?) the lens with which I viewed the dance.

I went to Zellerbach on a whim last night to see Shen Wei Dance Arts. As my mind worked furiously to come to terms with Stravinsky's desaturated version of what, for me, is oh-too-familiar music, I realized that the visual impression was complementary: the dancers wore drab grey and moss colored "dance class" clothes, and both the garments and the stage floor looked as if they'd been rubbed with chalk. This muted, grey Spring reminded me of country dawns and the dewey webs that I used to try to count before the sun melted them away. Shen Wei's vision seemed to represent the nervous cusp between winter and spring, and it was a far cry from the Easter egg pastels or other bright colors that we often use to dance in the season.

The hush of the ritual allowed me to appreciate what felt like a wholly original dance vocabulary. The dancers executed yoga-like postures with a speed and precision (and in sequences that you would never attempt in yoga class) that continued to surprise. (Well, ok, my attention was on the verge of waning when the chunk-chunk-CHUNK kicked in, and even though the strident chords were just coming from the piano, I was pulled right back into the piece.) This wasn't just the token yoga-fusion-modern-dance thing that I've been watching on bay area stages for the past five years, either. The strings of motion built from these still poses seemed purposefully abstract, bestowing importance on movement and not on story or geography or cultural identity. The fierce, rhythmic punctuations--a leg here, suddenly replaced by an elbow, instantly obscured by one standing foot--showcased the dancers' flexibility: their range of movements seemed physically impossible sometimes, but not in that highly emotional, all-about-extensions way. Rather, Shen Wei's dancers folded and unfolded like pieces of living origami.

And then they stood all in a line and did nothing but twitch for a few minutes. Twitch. Hand. Knee. Twitch. Twitch.

This Sacre du Printemps--its muted tones, (the desaturated score!) the sprightly movements and highly individualized attention to the group (no passionate pas de deux and very few soloistic moments to speak of)--made sense to me even if it's not the Rite that I would make. (uh, ask me in a few years...) Shen Wei's spring came in as a quiet shadow, a murky grey memory of all the springs past.

And do you think that the Rite could pale in comparison to another piece on the same program! Well, it did. be continued


Benjamin Britten's "Spring Symphony" has the same quality of winter-not-yet-spring so that the wild finale really does feel earned.


By Blogger Heather, at 2:33 PM  

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