Left – Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre's Rite of Spring
The reception of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is legendary. Long since acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished and influential pieces of music, it initially had audiences rioting in protest. Unfortunately, its ubiquitous influence over subsequent works has been so profound as to make it impossible for contemporary audiences to fully understand its initial brutal impact.
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre have done a decent job of approximating it with their interpretation, though. Artistic Director Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Rite of Spring is raw, angular, alien and violently, beautifully sexual. Movement is strange. The cast explode into brawls and persecution with but a moment’s notice. The entire work has a propulsive, nervous energy that sees it walk a perpetual line between terrifying and absurd.
Visually, it’s wonderful. Keegan-Dolan employs iconic and archetypal tableaus to maintain striking imagery throughout the work. An ensemble of identical working-class citizens, gathered around a demagogue. A young woman violently attacked, stripped and cast out. Matters grow surreal as the work progresses. Slavering hound heads are donned by the cast members. The entire cast strips completely naked. It’s eviscerating.
Such striking visuals are given strong support by the mechanics of the work. To Keegan-Dolan’s credit, choreography is subtle and minimal. Rite of Spring is not a work defined by showy solos but small, percolating rhythms and naturalistic performances. It mirrors Stravinsky’s compositional austerity – beautifully conveyed by Fabulous Beast’s inspired decision to interpret the work’s musical score via two pianists on one piano. Really, it’s masterful work.
Disappointingly, Petrushka does not follow suit. It begins very strongly. With his entire cast throwing their clothes to the side in favour of pristine white dresses and clothes against a backdrop of billowing white curtains, Keegan-Dolan immediately establishes the work as a dream-like counterpoint to Rite of Spring’s raw humanity. Prancing about in vocal unison, his ensemble are joyous and spirited. The audience is swept up in the fun.
From there, proceedings gradually grow blurry. In his notes, Keegan-Dolan makes reference to neither wanting to embody narrative or pursue abstraction. Unfortunately, he’s left with a confusing muddle of both. Whereas Spring had a muscular pacing that ensured its ambiguous narrative always felt like it was moving forward, Petrushka barely seems to progress at all (outside of white body paint increasingly turning up on dancers’ faces).
There is a breathtaking scene tucked at the end that hints at what could have been – a rope ladder cascading down from the sky; a lost doll hoping to find a home at its peak – but it doesn’t stop Petrushka from feeling like a letdown.
Brisbane Festival presents
The Rite of Spring / Petrushka
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
Director Michael Keegan-Dolan
Venue: QPAC Playhouse | Cnr of Grey & Melbourne Sts, South Bank QLD
Dates: 25 – 28 September, 2013
Tickets: $70 – $50
Part of the 2013 Brisbane Festival