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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company & SITI Company

'A Rite'

by Carmel Morgan

February 9, 2013 -- Ina & Jack Kaye Theater, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company returned to the DC area in the chilly month of February after their hot summer performance at Wolf Trap. This time they brought with them SITI Company, a renowned ensemble-based theater company, to perform “A Rite,” a collaborative work whose springboard was Igor Stravinsky’s 100-year-old “Rite of Spring.” Should you be unfamiliar with “Rite of Spring,” I recommend that you run to your computer to do a little background reading/listening. The important thing to know is this – “Rite of Spring” was groundbreaking, even revolutionary, and its opening performance caused quite a hubbub.

In the impressive joint work “A Rite,” the two artistic directors, Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart of SITI Company, melded not only dancers and actors, but music, history, and so much more (for example, particle physics!). “A Rite” followed a meandering structure that took it cues, albeit out of order, from “Rite of Spring.” Time seemed to slip back and forth. Strobe light flashes sometimes signaled the temporal changes.

While not full of intense dancing, “A Rite” delivered intense presence. The actors really moved well, with conviction and precision. In addition, the dancers acted well, and at one point everyone on stage sang (sort of sang), which is probably a testament to the amount of time and effort that went into creating the piece and getting the two companies to perform as a unit.

Like “Rite of Spring,” “A Rite” provided moments of uncomfortably loud jarring noise and wild movement. In bare feet and pedestrian clothing, the performers worked out their upper bodies in a line of repetitive gestures, or walked in lulling grid or circular patterns. A shell shocked soldier, accompanied by self-created machine gun cacophony, dragged his emotional wounds around with him and spoke to the common image of sacrifice. Crowds on stage boiled, with individuals popping up and out from the mass now and then, carrying chairs, or carrying each other. Some performers spoke – “What is this feeling?” one kept demanding in Japanese. There was no live orchestra, but the performers composed an orchestra of their own, adding vocal sounds to copy part of Stravinsky’s score toward the end of “A Rite.”

I can’t really place myself at the 1913 performance, so I don’t know how I might have reacted then. The Jones/Bogart collaboration didn’t cause a riot, and it didn’t pack the same kind of surprising wallop that Stravinsky’s orchestral innovations apparently did, but it nonetheless stirred my soul. I’m not sure of the message that was supposed to be relayed, if any particular message was designed to be imparted. What I took away from “A Rite” was a new appreciation for the courage required to be an artist, and the heroism exhibited in making daring artistic choices. Despite its boldness, “A Rite” showed a gentle side, too, promoting peace, environmentalism, and deep contemplation.

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