Sasha Waltz & Guests; Sadler’s Wells, London
November 11, 2015

David Mead

Sasha Waltz & Guests in Sacre Photo Bernd Uhlig

Sasha Waltz & Guests in Sacre
Photo Bernd Uhlig

It says much about Stravisnky’s Rite of Spring that over a hundred years on it still has impact, and still inspires some remarkable new imaginings. Sasha Waltz’s version, Sacre, made in 2013 to mark the centenary, is a triumph; an earthy, powerful, visceral dance that builds and builds until the chosen one finally rips her clothes from her body and, naked, dances to her death.

Sacre begins in a misty world with a pile of ash and stones centre stage. There’s an air of mystery and of a time past. Couples slowly gather, everyone dressed in simple costumes in drab browns and greys. It’s not long before something stirs and they stomp, jerk and twitch as they plunge headlong into a collective frenzy.

Waltz is fantastic at organising her cast of 28. The dancers frequently divide into male and female groups that then splinter and reform, eating up the stage as they do so. The men often pull, lift and manhandle the women. The Ritual of Abduction is especially potent. But although it’s all very structured, the energy just keeps coming. It’s a tidal wave of action.

There are visually arresting images aplenty. Impressive early on is the sight of the whole ensemble shunting, arms outstretched, palms wide open in the Augers of Spring. Later the cast take on a V-shape with everyone on their knees, the gestural dance suggesting some sort of cleansing. The best, though, comes after the sacrificial one has been chosen, when the women are held aloft (some for quite a while) in a crucifixion pose by the men.

The men having taken the lead almost throughout, it’s the women select the victim. They push her forward and exclude her, then prepare her and deliver her. Despite her being dressed in a sacrificial purple robe, she seems initially unaware of her fate. When it hits her, she dances with abandon, at one point screaming, before tearing it off for her final anguished dance.

It is great stuff and among the top recent versions, but why tweak the score? After the sage kisses the earth, the music stops while an orgy takes place. While one can see the idea, the break only served to halt the flow and break the tension, although the sight of everyone reaching up on the music’s restart, a powerful suggestion of bursting into flame, is impressive. Unconvincing later is the introduction of a couple of children. While they highlight the idea of birth and the cycle of life, they don’t really add anything.

Sacre Photo Bernd Uhlig

Photo Bernd Uhlig

L’Après-midi d’un faune Photo Bernd Uhlig

L’Après-midi d’un faune
Photo Bernd Uhlig

Opening the programme, Waltz’s take on L’Après-midi d’un faune opens with just two lovers playing out a sensual encounter, a reference perhaps to the original poem by Mallarmé. As the rest of the ensemble gather, the work largely involves a shifting focus on different groups within the ensemble rather than on any one individual with scenes often playing out simultaneously.

The work is filled with allusions to Nijinsky version. Like his, this is a dance about sexual desire, although Waltz does succeed in creating rather more erotic tension. There’s a hint of masturbation. Dancers raise their heads and open their mouths, silently expressing their needs.

Often it seems to be the females attracting the males. One woman dances softly but provocatively, a male responding by slowly approaching, then nuzzling her with his head before the two roll over one another again and again suggesting a sexual encounter. Another attracts the men by very slowly putting lipstick on.

The dance is at its best when Waltz turns to slow, fluid movement that’s full of attitudes, and when she reflects the somewhat dreamy and unhurried mood of Debussy’s music. Those moments when she shifts to jagged convulsions certainly provide contrast, but seem out of place.

The designs by French artist Guillaume Bruère place the dancers in a riot of colour. His costumes are reminiscent of early twentieth-century swimsuits, while the walls that frame the action are jigsaw of bold colours that slowly change from greens and yellows, through fuchsias, blues and purples, to a final picture dominated by red.

Scène d'Amour Photo Bernd Uhlig

Scène d’Amour
Photo Bernd Uhlig

Scène d’amour, to the music of same title from Berlioz’s dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette very much gets in close on the two protagonists. Everything feels magnified by having the dance take place against a plain black surround, which gives it a dreamy air. Sadly, like many dreams, large chunks of are difficult to recall.

Although stylised, Waltz’s dance feels more natural than many other takes on the balcony-cum-garden scene as she eschews the over the top drama of most balletic versions. It is, though, all a bit too low key. There’s no tingle factor, and while the high points in the music are not unmarked, nearly all are unmatched.

There are some beautiful moments, as when Lorena Justribó Manion in her light, flowing dress falls softly into the arms of Ygal Tsur (in contrast in grey joggers and T-shirt) and is carried as if she is floating in some ecstatic dream, and later when she steps over him and gentle twirls his limbs with her ankle, but they tend to get lost in everything else. Unfortunate too that some of the lifts didn’t flow as it seemed they should, looking a little
contrived and hard work.