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Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre

'The Rite of Spring', 'Petrushka'

by Jessica Wilson

April 11, 2013 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

As an evening of rituals, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre did not disappoint, from the very subtle repetitions to the exceedingly obvious theme choices. From fear to sacrifice, rituals were ever-present and depicted with skill and expertise from choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, and conveyed effective by his array of dancers. Performed as part of Sadler’s Wells’ “String of Rites” series to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s celebrated masterpiece “The Rite of Spring”, Keegan-Dolan’s original interpretation of the same name premiered at the London Coliseum in 2009. For these performances there has been much reworking, with what is essentially the new piece paired with another debut work to Stravinsky, “Petrushka”.

Keegan-Dolan’s “The Rite of Spring” takes place in an Irish village, with the protagonist figure of witch-like Olwen Fouréré triggering a series of tea drinking and fits, adorning animal masks and performing violent sacrifices. Symbolising the arrival of spring, floral dresses were worn by all with highly effective and closely worked movement sequences performed in unison to the notorious rhythms of the score, the piano version for four hands played by celebrated concert pianists Lidija and Sanja Bizjak. The moments of unison were as powerful as the sacrificial nature of the work, adding depth to the ritual of the Chosen One which was anticipated by all. The imagery and fear which was conjured throughout the piece was true to the theme, with the literal use of knives within “The Rite of Spring” and the use of a large table to lay out the sacrificial choices.

From the moment the curtain rose on “Petrushka” to reveal a largely white set and the dancers in white costumes, the audience were on a journey away from the darkness of “Rite”. The earthy, tense nature of the first piece gave way to a lightened and carefree atmosphere, with the same dancers performing fluid and arguably playful movement. They gradually appeared with painted white faces, perhaps washed clean by a second ritual and watched in awe as one dancer ascended a ladder which dropped to the stage at the very end. The ethereal images displayed here were partnered by some classic male-female duets, but these conflicted visually with some of the costuming, which would suggest the opposite, but perhaps this was the intention. Further work in unison demonstrated the talents of the dancers involved, well-matched and working closely together. There is reference to the original but it is very subtle. So much so, that the work is open to much personal interpretation and was, for some I suspect, difficult to read.

Although not disappointing, overall the pieces were far from overwhelming, despite the obvious talent of Keegan-Dolan’s chosen dancers and the impulse-driven motivation of the score.

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