Summoning the spirit of the spring

The dancers take centre stage in this Fabulous Beast take on Stravinsky’s work – to terrific effect

Galway Arts Festival and Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s co-production of The Rite of Spring & Petrushka. Photograph: Colm Hogan.

Galway Arts Festival and Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s co-production of The Rite of Spring & Petrushka. Photograph: Colm Hogan.


Rite of Spring/Petrushka
Black Box Theatre

Twelve performers flank the stage, dressed in drab-coloured caps and coats, each with a large cardboard box. As two pianist sisters, Lidija and Sanja Bizjak, begin to play, the image is mindful of an ante room to an emigrant ship of yore, a bank of reluctant exiles, their hopes, anxieties and secrets all in the twined-up parcels. And then this remarkable ensemble of dancers begin to move; their thudding and compelling stamping and pattern-making, counterpointing the piano strains, their orchestral manoeuvres providing visual and percussive fullness to Stravinsky’s score.

Michael Keegan-Dolan has invested his distinctive choreographic take keenly on the music but, in a reversal of focus, from the musicians to the dancers. It is the latter who now create the jagged and dissonant phrases and bring the elemental rhythm and even the melody to the fore. Here you have a tribe, a family, a village or a mob; they protect and include, and then they violate and exclude. Hovering and presiding in turn is Bernadette Iglich’s Cailleach Beara, a cigarette-smoking shaman/witch, dispensing superstition and spells. In Fabulous Beast Theatre style, there is no middle ground; butcher knives, snarling dog heads, barefoot women, and violent assault are all more than intimated. The primitivism of Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s original is still close to the surface, the anger and sexual frustration barely repressed as the powerful physicality and even terror is unleashed.

But there is a redemptive signal; a joyful dance in bright frocks suggesting that the potent mix in humans of female and male, of animal and spirit, can summon the spring and defy the spoilers, if all is as finely tuned as this terrific production.

That spring spoiler, that dark mistress of ceremonies acts as a link to Petrushka, the second half of this double bill. Again, the dance maker turns the classic around. The familiar characters are absent in what is almost a dance concerto, as a gleaming host of white-costumed dancers throng and disperse in solos, duets, and wonderfully expressive communal loose-limbed folk dance. Above all this towers the MC, with a bemused expression as she surveys the mortals at play. They round on one white-painted doll, but then slowly smear all their faces with the masking white, a troupe of mummers, all of them petrushkas looking to the stars .

Runs until Saturday

Seona MacReamoinn

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