The Rite of Spring
Seeta Patel Dance
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Choreographer Seeta Patel’s mission is clear. She merges contemporary movement with classical Indian Bharatanatyam dance in one almighty clash of the cymbals where East meets West to form an energetic powerhouse of movement fed by a live classical orchestra. Stravinsky's monumental The Rite of Spring meets Bharatanatyam. It couldn't get better.
The evening opens with a pre-menu flavour of Indian classical dance with Shree, before the fusion happens in the second half during Rite of Spring. In this piece, Patel herself performs a Bharatanatyam work in its purer form as a solo to the sounds of wailing vocals, drums and flute carrying the dancer into a mystical, faraway imaginary space.
Shree opens shrouded in darkness. Gradually, as shards of light map out the form of Patel, she appears as if a forest fairy, part human, with the greenness of costume catching the light, (stunningly lit by Warren Letton) wrapped in hope, emblematic of the first signs of spring.
Patel holds a central force of gravity within a magic circle so powerful, it's as if she has been placed there by the gods of spring themselves. There is something deeply meditative about the movement and layout of this piece, where focus is drawn into the eye of the storm at the heart of the circle. The audience are privy to a secret act of worship, an entirely elusive form of deity, yet nonetheless magnetic as we don't know where the drive of worship comes from.
Such intimacy can easily be imagined in a smaller physical space. Yet as the music increases in power and drama and seasons change mirroring Samyukta Ranganathan’s rousing tones, the space fills in breadth and scale as Patel spins and grips the audience, showing off Bharatanatyam for its subtle and fierce language of flicking hand gestures, twists and turns.
Then the second half opens with the 70-strong Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra lovingly playing Stravinsky's beloved ballet score with sweeping passion, vying for attention at times with onstage action. Music and movement mostly co-exist, but on occasion, movement battles for full attention given the overwhelming power of having live musicians in the pit strumming out one of the most forboding scores in the history of ballet music.
An epic task, but overall, Patel has turned Bharatanatyam, with its complex network of rhythmic footwork, geometric, (almost Cunningham-like at times) movements and hyper-expressive gestures into a compelling Rite of Spring for 12 dancers. No easy feat given how many interpretations are out there.
While the narrative stays close to the original, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, in Patel's Rite, the Chosen One is male, not female, elevating him to a deity for whom all sacrifice themselves. Dancer Sooraj Subramaniam is the jewel in the crown of an elaborate ritual that seals his fate. Here Patel’s tightly focused choreography delivers a dynamic propulsion of form with expressive extension of feet and arms as Subramaniam’s elusive Chosen One is elevated to divine status. Carrying a red cushion, as swathes of red cloth unwind and flow out from round him, it's as if his blood vessels are splayed and fanned out across the stage.
The stage is bathed in pastel colour, the dancers with Mormon-style braided hair and softly coloured tunics don't miss a stamp or a beat. Patel proves to be a mesmerising performer as well as a talented choreographer who is brave enough to take on ghosts of the monumental Rite of Spring in the face of countless revivals and truly make it her own. What a triumph.
Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi