Dancing at Dusk — A moment with Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring

Choreography by Pina Bausch, music by Igor Stravinsky
Sadler’s Wells, Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables
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Dancing at Dusk Credit: Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion
Dancing at Dusk Credit: Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion
Dancing at Dusk Credit: Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion
Dancing at Dusk Credit: Zapo Babilée

In March this year, 38 dancers from 14 different African countries were rehearsing in Toubab Dialaw in Senegal ready to tour a restaging of Pina Bausch’s 1975 The Rite of Spring due to open in Dakar (paired with a new work) before coming to Sadler’s Wells and other European dates. Then, days before its planned première, the world began to go into lockdown.

We will have to wait until theatres are able to reopen before we can see this African restaging live, but fortunately German film-maker Florian Heinzen-Ziob and his crew were documenting the creation of this restaging led by former Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch dancers Josephine Ann Endicott and Jorge Puerta Armenta and they were able to film this rehearsal.

That morning, the company had had their first complete run through at the École des Sables. It was only after lunch that the news broke and a decision made to dance one last time on the beach. It is that which is captured in its entirely in Dancing at Dusk.

It is a work that is danced on a stage covered in peat and soil but the dancers now had an extra challenge: dancing barefoot on sand with the setting making it even more elemental with a wide sky, a sliver of ocean on the horizon and the wind blowing the thin, revealing shifts of the women.

This isn’t a Rite in which circling and stamping develop a trance state. It seems full of danger and uncertainty, sudden panic, strange huddlings together, then united in ritual moves that hide the fear. A succession of girls pass the red dress to be worn by the victim between, then bring the red dress to the man who decides which is chosen. Even as the light fades, you can see the pain on their faces and can’t help but think of the pandemic and its victims.

Though the work was still in rehearsal, this is a thrilling performance full of feeling, a classic work of modern dance given a new edge by what these dancers bring to it from their own diverse dance traditions and an added emotion from their own situation.

While hoping to see this in the flesh in the future, it is good to have it captured here and well worth what it costs to watch it.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton