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Some 'Rites' to remember
Allan Ulrich, SF Gate
© 2013 Hearst Communications Inc.
February 24, 2013

Photo © Herbert Migdoll

"The Rite of Spring" has been performed so many times in so many ways, it's impossible to list them all. Following is a selective list:

The memorable

Joffrey Ballet's reconstruction of Nijinsky's original

Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer toiled heroically for years to retrieve this landmark work from the fog of history. Despite some questionable details, it's the closest we've come to learning how "Rite of Spring" looked and moved in 1913. Authentic? Joffrey unveiled it Sept. 30, 1987, in Los Angeles. The next morning, the city experienced a major earthquake. Draw your own conclusion.

Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal in "Frühlingsopfer"

The formidable German Expressionist created her "Rite" in 1975 and it served for the company's American debut in 1984. The dancers must negotiate their way across a stage covered in earth, and they capture the ritual element of the score in an almost visceral manner. You can see excerpts in "Pina," Wim Wenders' filmed homage to the late choreographer, now on DVD.

Paul Taylor's "Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)"

The master dance maker uses the four-hand piano version of the score as inspiration for this sardonic 1980 essay that juxtaposes a ballet rehearsal studio with a private-eye caper. As a rethinking of the original scenario, it makes loopy sense. As dance theater, it's drop-dead brilliant.

Molissa Fenley's "State of Darkness"

Fenley, a Mills College graduate, secured her career with this daunting, exhausting, encyclopedic 35-minute solo. The piece achieved a measure of notoriety when Fenley performed it topless. Since the premiere, she has set the piece on men, most famously Peter Boal, who also danced topless.

Walt Disney's "Rite of Spring" (in "Fantasia")

Ever since the premiere of the film in 1940, generations have been introduced to the (somewhat abridged and rearranged) Stravinsky score in sundry revivals of the movie. For this sequence, Disney animators devised a creation of the planet scheme, up to the rise, hegemony and extinction of the dinosaurs. This "Jurassic Park" concept still astonishes, and as a bonus, it's conducted by the legendary Leopold Stokowski.

The regrettable

Martha Graham's

"Rite of Spring"

In her younger days, Graham danced the Chosen One in Léonide Massine's version, which succeeded the Nijinsky staging at the Ballets Russes. But inspiration totally deserted Graham when she choreographed the score for her company late in her career in 1984. Calling it inconsequential would be an act of kindness.

Maurice Béjart's

"Rite of Spring"

This extravaganza might have seemed positively torrid when it was choreographed in 1959. A half century later, to these eyes, Béjart's anthropomorphic unisons, with their chest-bumping mating rituals, look a bit silly, not to mention facile.

Angelin Preljocaj's

"Rite of Spring"

The French modernist's 2001 assault on Stravinsky comes down to a group rape of a naked woman on an Astroturf hill. Preljocaj confuses sacrifice with violation. Any way you look at it, this is an appalling spectacle, Eurodance at its nadir and, alas, much too typical of contemporary interpretations of the score.

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