Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"A Rite"

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company
Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
October 12th, 2013

This year in dance has been all about “The Rite of Spring”. With 2013 being its hundredth anniversary, the ballet’s history has been the topic of conversation. It still seems quite impossible that “The Rite of Spring” premiered one hundred years ago. With its challenging narrative, surprising score and dramatic movement, it could easily have been the brainchild of one of today’s contemporary ballet choreographers, dance theater directors or modern interdisciplinary artists.

What today’s dancemakers have done this year is re-envision, re-create and re-think “The Rite of Spring”. And as a result of their efforts, audiences have been treated to version after version of this tragic ballet in the past ten months. “A Rite”, co-produced and co-performed by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (Artistic Director Bill T. Jones) and SITI Company (Artistic Director Anne Bogart), was an epic performance adventure. Impeccably crafted and artfully designed, “A Rite” was not only the best re-imagining of “The Rite of Spring” I have seen this year, but perhaps one of the best dance works I have seen in the last five years. With every moment, the entire sold-out audience brimmed with palpable anticipation - we couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Making the experience even more special is that “A Rite” is part of a month-long celebration at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, marking the thirtieth anniversary of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

Jones, Bogart and the cast have crafted a true character-study, and that is what  makes “A Rite” a masterpiece. Through dance, theater, text, humor, scenework, music and body percussion, here was a comprehensive character examination (told with equal parts hilarity and seriousness): the history of the original production, the story behind the compositional score, the narrative of the real-life players, the psyche of the onstage personas. “A Rite” is not just choreography, not just performance, not just dance theater; it is the whole package.

"A Rite"
Photo: Paul B. Goode
The opening moments were like watching an old Hollywood epic movie with the complex collage of music, movement and lights. Right from the start, the notion of community was key; the cast moving together in lines and in groups. Sometimes this occurred with unison movement, while in other instances, the collective worked as one (specifically the sequences with chairs and stools). In addition, there were two large choir scenes, where cast members sang multiple different parts. When combined, their individual voices created a very literal and figurative harmony.

Jones’ choreographic greatness glimmered throughout. The most notable instance happened during a very short solo - a death-defying double attitude jump collapsed onto the floor, and was followed by a stunning multiple turn in parallel.

Approximately two-thirds into “A Rite”, there was a long divertissement where three large doorways were introduced. The cast wove in and out of these spaces and spiraled around each other in the main part of the stage. Though the scene was mimicking the polyphony in the score (where independent musical lines mix with other additional voices, creating an equal interdependence), it really seemed like the life-size physical architecture of a clock, and as such, a comment on time.

The character study yielded important findings. More than any other iteration of “The Rite of Spring”, this version really helped the audience understand the complicated inner emotions of ‘the chosen one’. “A Rite” revealed the depth of this primary character and the combination of heartbreak, sorrow, anxiety, expectancy, and even at times, relief that is their experience. Also, Jones and Bogart have envisioned a story where death is not the end, but resurrection. As the a cappella group section returned, there was a slow but solid recapitulation – the community was still kicking.    

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