Sadler’s Wells

14th March

Stuart Sweeney

Bharatanatyam and Kathak, originating in Southern India, are two great classical dance traditions and their development in the UK has seen fusions with European art forms. The results have produced some of the most celebrated works of recent years from creators such as Akram Khan and Shobana Jeyasingh. Seeta Patel’s The Rite of Spring, employing Bharatanatyam, started life around five years ago in smaller venues such as London’s The Place, as a work for six dancers and now boasts twelve with live accompaniment by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

From its origins with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has inspired choreographers with its dynamic and menacing score. There could be over 100 different dance versions, and Seeta Patel’s may be the first employing Indian dance. It forms the second half with the  solo Bhartanatyam work, Shree, opening the programme.

Seeta Patel Dance The Rite of Spring
Photo: Christo Filopoulou

In The Rite, Patel’s dancers celebrate the dynamism of the score as they nervously await the unveiling of the Chosen One. Rapid hand movement, spins and jumps accord closely with the music. We see powerful groupings with outstretched arms and always the exquisite splayed fingers typical of Bharatanatyam. While some versions have a relatively loose structure for the dancers’ movement, Patel uses the ordered grace of the dance style to project a more systematic choreography with lines and symmetrical groupings.

Seeta Patel Dance The Rite of Spring
Photo: Christo Filopoulou

Another striking difference in Patel’s version is that the chosen one is a man, played by a superb dancer,  Sooraj Subramaniam. I particularly appreciated his scene with the devotees, continuously spinning at electrifying pace. In the middle of the work, there is a respite from the Stravinsky’s clashing chords, as the Chosen One is soothed and stroked by several followers, accompanied by gentle, Indian singing from Roopa Mahadevan. This contrasted style worked well, but after a few minutes, we are back to the furious pace of The Rite.

Finally, we have a striking reversal of other dance versions, where the Chosen One is left standing when all the others are sacrificed. So, an intriguing and eye-catching reimagining of a work that originally marked a revolution in both music and dance.

In the first half of the performance, Shree opens with exquisite music by Samyukta Ranganathan (vocals), Prathap Ramachandran (percussion), Vijay Venkat (flute). Patel writes that Shree “will take us on the journey of Mother Earth from birth to destruction.” Sadly, despite all Patel’s skill, the piece does not ignite. The early stages when Patel moves on the floor are s are frustratingly, darkly lit. Later while, Patel’s arm and hand movement are beautiful, the dynamic footwork we later see in The Rite of Spring, is missing. Nevertheless, overall, the evening can still be marked as a success.