Sasha Waltz explains the inspiration and creative process behind her Sacre (on at Sadler’s Wells next week) to CriticalDance’s Maggie Foyer.
Art generally evolves but sometimes it punches you right on the nose to signal a radical change. This happened on May 29, 1913 at the Champs-Élysées in Paris when the audience heard the crashing chords of Igor Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps and saw Vaslav Nijinsky’s earthy invocation of ritual. For an audience just getting used to the newness of Les Sylphides one can only imagine the assault on the eyes and ears at this riotous premiere.
The music has attracted many great choreographers now it is the turn of Sasha Waltz who returns to Sadler’s Wells with a triple bill built around her version of Sacre. Commissioned by Michel Franck, director of Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, it was created on the Mariinsky Ballet and performed at the centenary celebrations, sharing the programme with Millicent Hodgson and Kenneth Archer’s reconstructed Nijinsky version. It was later performed in Berlin with her own company, who will be dancing it in London.
I asked Sasha Waltz about the provenance of the work. “Stravinsky captured the power so well. The music is talking about the physical power, the rawness of the movement, the outburst of energy when spring is forcing its way through the ground after winter. This I worked on very strongly.
“I went with my assistants to work with the Mariinsky dancers. It was quite crazy in a short period of time. The ballet company always have second and third casts and the material was very foreign for them. The work on the floor and the concept of something quite raw and ritualistic but also abstract was far from their mind set. It was like teaching something from another planet and very hard to communicate but they were a committed group so, in the end, we had a nice journey together.
“Then, when I worked with my own company the choreography, the written language, didn’t change but the expression is very different. It is wilder and more expressive and their individualism is a power. In the Mariinsky they are not so used to expressing their individuality which gets lost in the corps de ballet and within the form. It was a very different approach to movement and my struggle was also to get the individualism out of them.
“I suppose it was also struggle for Nijinsky because he wanted something so different from what the Ballet Russes dancers were used to while, at the same time, trying to deal with this music! I think we can’t really imagine it because now we have such incredible range of musical possibilities and sounds so we are not so surprised. But I have now been performing it with the orchestra in Berlin; they are a good orchestra and they are struggling. So at that time when there was no language and it was not in the repertory, it must have been an incredible revelation.
“Maybe Sacre is a little bit more Tanztheater than my other pieces but I always stress that my movement language is very, very different. My work has a lot of different influences and it depends on the context and the content that I am working on which language I then choose. I really work with the dancers, I see what they bring and how I can develop the strong voice within them. But in the work, although they all keep their individuality, there is an undercurrent aesthetic. However, I would say it is not really in the Tanztheater tradition.
“We also tried to invent our own rituals so I didn’t relate to anything existing. I was influenced by circular patterns and used the power of the ground to generate material and it was also very much about how the group selects and builds the ecstasy together. Within the group identity we needed to find the victim. Often there is one like a fool, a clairvoyant or someone who is in touch with the spirits so I explored that. I wanted to develop it through the process so I wasn’t sure who it was going to be and nobody within the group knew it. I was thinking it could be also a man but in the process it was a woman. For me the woman is more related to a cycle, through menstruation and giving birth so she understands the process of bringing new life. It was essential that it must be danced a woman.
“For me this piece was an interesting research into our global warming. I placed it in a timeless zone, an almost volcanic environment: no vegetation and no earth. At this moment in time when we have lost so much the relation with the earth, with the universe, with the balance between the energies which are directing the universe, I thought a piece like this is actually a very powerful reminder and that we are part of these forces and not above them. We research our environmental crisis while we also to go back to this archaic idea.
“The London programme includes Debussy and Berlioz. ‘I went back in time to something more romantic like Berlioz and then moving into Debussy and then Stravinsky so you see this lineage. The pas de deux, the Scene d’Amour from Berlioz, is from the Romeo and Juliet I wrote for the Paris Opera. It is more classical and this is the first time I have extracted a piece but it is so complete in itself, that I can extract it without compromising. The Debussy actually was a request from Daniel Barenboim who conducted the performances in Berlin. He asked me if I would like to do something new so I created something. So this is the programme.”
Sasha Waltz and Guests dance Sacre, Scene d’Amour and L’Après-midi d’un faune at Sadler’s Wells, October 11-13. For details and tickets, click here.