REVIEW: The Rite Of Spring / Petrushka (Melbourne Festival) | Comedy Theatre
Set to the music of Stravinsky, Ireland’s Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre brings its animalistic dance works to the Melbourne Festival. It’s fearless and fantastic.
There appears little hope for the heart of humankind in the The Right Of Spring, with human sacrifice, depravity and the pushing of sexual boundaries unveiling from behind a veneer of regular society. With nudity, animalistic movements and sequences where women appear under attack, the audience is confronted and offered scarce relief from the sense of urgency.
It is no surprise that director and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan chose such an earthy and raw approach in this piece for his company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. The opening piece in this double bill has a pounding, haunting score by Igor Stravinsky. It reportedly caused a riot when it was first revealed 100 years ago, thanks to its bold segue from traditional classical music. Therefore, any reincarnation of the music must be matched by dance that stretches the performers and audience beyond their comfort factor.
The Right Of Spring was recently performed at the Brisbane Festival, and one newspaper reviewer confessed to being “perplexed” by the narrative. They were not wrong, so the best approach is to be engulfed by the mood — it’s mysterious and potent, and it proves hard to take your eyes away.
Beginning in a subdued setting with dancers in drab, tweed every-day attire, a scene of hardship is evoked. Life seems cold and monotonous, but respectful. Yet with spring on the horizon, pagan rituals take over and young female sacrifices must be hunted. Cardboard boxes are opened to reveal animal heads, which are then worn by the performers. They pursue death, yielding knives while dancing feverishly to Stravinsky’s beat, which is played flawlessly on the piano by sisters Lidija Bizjak and Sanja Bizjak.
As a change of season comes, the dancers strip away their dull clothes for a brief moment of full nudity. Both male and female performers put on floral dresses, symbolising a fresh awakening.
Petrushka, the second piece, is also danced to Stravinsky’s score, and played again by the Bizjak sisters on the one piano. Yet with an all-white backdrop and performers in white dresses and white face masks, the spirit is much more uplifting and the movement more fluid and endearing.
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre hails from Ireland, but the dancers and actors are gathered from numerous countries including the United States, Germany, Nigeria, Denmark and more. They perform with fantastic cohesion — all are masters of contemporary movement and fearless in their execution of confronting moves and dramatic scenes.
The set by Rae Smith, lighting by Adam Silverman and costumes by Doey Luthi (Petrushka) showed that less is more. Simple touches, such as a ladder dropping from the ceiling or a clanking chain that shatters the stillness had impact, but ensure attention was firmly fixed where it should be — on the impressive dancers and brilliant playing of Stravinsky’s score.
The details: The Rite Of Spring / Petrushka played the Comedy Theatre as part of the Melbourne Festival on October 11-14.