A review of Le Sacre du printemps by Pina Bausch

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Le Sacre du printemps
by Pina Bausch
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Choreography by Pina Bausch
L’Arche Editeur, 2012, ISBN: 9782851817747

Just the half an hour or so, that’s all it lasts, but it rapidly becomes unbearably involving even so. It’s due to the intensity of the drama, the way you’re drawn into the urgency for renewal, how it unremittingly builds and builds. You feel it in the pulse of your blood. And for renewal to come about a chosen one, a sacrifice/scapegoat, is needed. Who will wear the red dress, and dance unto death?

It is the tenderness that scares the others off, those who decline the dress. A hand reaching out to caress, let’s say. Or it may be what they read in the man’s face: desire, need, hunger. Death wants only the very brave.

This last dance is, as well as being thrilling and climactic and incredibly moving, simply an incredible performance. For how do you attain in dance an absolute abandonment (one culminating in the loss of life itself) while retaining always at least a crumb of control? Death may no longer be a taboo; but dying is.

There is an elemental quality to the staging, in keeping with the nature of the ballet and Stravinsky’s disconcerting score: the men in black trousers, the women in white ethereal dresses (a nod to Café Muller perhaps), looking for all the world like two antagonistic packs, hunting each other. The earth lies strewn at their feet. A red garment is the stark battle line between them. In Bausch’s choreography, whose subtle geometry is here apparent, their movements reach for the fluidity of ballet but anxiety always fractures the harmony of the moment. Dance constantly morphs into drama and violence.

This performance was filmed in Wuppertal in 1978, three years after its premiere there, and it still feels dangerous and edgy even now. There is an accompanying booklet with the DVD, which includes black and white stills from the film and a first-hand account by Jo Ann Endicott, one of Bausch’s dancers, of being involved in those first productions. And Cocteau writes about the first responses to Le Sacre du printemps in Paris in May 1913, and of his friendship with Stravinsky and Diaghilev. The booklet is in French, German and English.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com