REVIEW: The Rite of Spring – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

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Choreographer: Christopher Hampson

Music: Igor Stravinsky

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

An evening of stark contrast marks the start of Scottish Ballet’s Autumn/Winter season. Opening the bill The Rite of Spring, Christopher Hampton’s attempt to breathe new life into the now infamous ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking score. Vaslav Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s work, now regarded as one of the most important works in the history of ballet, was a revolutionary work created in a revolutionary artistic time. Its tale of ritual sacrifice met with a critical mauling resulting in the now legendary ‘Riot at The Rite’ at its notorious premier in Paris 100 years ago.

Hampson pares the work down to just three dancers, two male and one female. The curtain opening on stark, white, high-sided, semi-circular walls, which claustrophobically enclose the dancers, we then bear witness to scenes of ritual violence, dominance and devotion played out between two brothers (Christopher Harrison and Constant Vigier) culminating in the curtain falling on the younger sibling broken, both physically and mentally, crumpled on the floor.

The curtain rises again as the elder brother enters, clad in army fatigues, clutching the tools of interrogation, a stool and a black hood. The white walls now most definitely the walls of a prison cell, the domination begins again, this time more intense, more brutal. The female dancer, in the first half a taunting presence, appears more menacing in the second, offering the younger brother his only escape from this unbearable torment – death. Vigier dances exhileratingly with power and passion bringing this short, sharp work to it’s savage and shocking end.

Though still gripping and intense and retaining some of the primal energy of the original, it is hard to say whether time or this particular staging have robbed the piece of its brutal power. The quality of the dancers is in no doubt, particularly Vigier and Harrison, and Hampson is a choreographer of sublime quality, the audience too remain intrigued throughout, but the decision to set the piece in no particular time or specific location somehow robs the narrative of clarity and one can’t help feeling that it is not the dance but Stravinsky’s exhilarating score that has always been the real star of The Rite of Spring.