The Rite Of Spring & Elite Syncopations
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The premiere of Igor Stravinsky ballet The Rite Of Spring, in Paris in 1913, famously led to disturbances in the aisles. There was no danger of such incivility during Thursday evening’s performance of Scottish Ballet’s minimalist Rite by the company’s artistic director Christopher Hampson.
Performed on a smart, off-white, abstract set – which has three walls, rounded corners and looks like a cross between a gladiatorial amphitheatre and a latter day skateboard park – the mass scenes typically associated with the ballet are replaced by a mere three dancers. Two brothers (initially wearing simple, black skirts) are joined by an elegant and aloof black-clad young woman.
The seeming solidarity between the siblings, and the instruction of the younger by the older brother descends into physical abuse. The older brother reappears in army fatigues, demanding the younger man’s gestural allegiance to something which is militarist and nationalist. His failure to do so, in his observable preference for the unattainable woman, leads to his head being covered by a bag, Abu Ghraib-style.
There’s no doubting the momentary beauty or the occasional poignancy of the piece. However, there is a deftness to Stravinsky’s musical juxtapositions which is not matched by Hampson’s lurches into very literal images of fascistic violence.
There is, surely, no work in the repertoire which is more contrasting with Hampson’s piece than Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 ragtime ballet Elite Syncopations. Inspired by the music of Scott Joplin, with extraordinary, garishly-coloured costumes (based upon the outrageous fashions of the early-20th century United States), it is a plotless pleasure of competitive dance and comic turns. The comic moments – such as a short, hapless man trying to dance with a tall, elegant woman – remind us that deliberately getting dance “wrong”, slapstick-style, is an accomplished art in itself.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 29, 2013
© Mark Brown