An exploration into Igor Stravinsky’s monumental composition “The Rite of Spring,” dealing with questions such as:
- How a work of art can go from being one of the most iconoclastic pieces of music in history to being one of the most iconic?
- How does a work of art cause a riot?
- How does the human brain react to a totally new sensation?
- How does music work?
- What is the relevance of The Rite today?
- How do a theatre company and a dance company create a work about a piece of music?
Note about process:
“SITI Company had dealt with “The Rite” a little bit while exploring neuroscience in Who Do You Think You Are. Jonah Lehrer’s chapter about “The Rite” in his book Proust Was a Neuroscientist was very stimulating. The company sensed that Stravinsky’s Rite raised some deeply compelling questions on a number of levels, and there was an ambient sense that we would want to get entangled in “The Rite” in a more direct way at some point.
Because “The Rite” is a ballet, it made sense that this subject would be explored with a dance company. When Carolina Performing Arts decided to present a celebration of the centenary of the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” they proposed commissioning works from a wide range of artists. Both Anne Bogart and Bill T. Jones were approached, and it occurred to the two artists that this might be an interesting project on which to collaborate.
From SITI’s perspective, this was not only a no-brainer from the point of view of the specific project but also because it was a chance to create a relationship with a company of likeminded artists. It was a chance for two artistic communities to meet and work together.
Anne and Bill T. met many times. Traveled to North Carolina. Discussed and dreamed. What became very clear to Anne was the difference in how they were approaching the material. Anne was driven very much by her intellectual interest in the material: the theoretical, historical, musicological, neurological, sociological bombs that “The Rite” set off. Bill T. was responding much more viscerally: poetically, imagistically, sensually. Anne realized that her own cerebral instincts needed to be tempered by Bill’s intuition. His admonition that “Before we do anything, we have to get the music into our bones” became a guiding principal.
“…a serious, intricate, multidirectional centennial tribute to a work of art whose spell it deepens.” (Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times)
FIRST WORKSHOP: Chapel Hill, NC
In April 2012, the two companies met for a 10-day workshop in Chapel Hill. They had seen each other’s work onstage, but this was the first time to formally be in the same room together. The two groups were like giddy teenagers on a first date.
It was decided that each of the two companies would lead training on alternate days. On the first day after some Suzuki training, Barney led a Viewpoints session that quickly turned into just an open improvisation. It became clear that these two groups of artists were so closely related that they shared a deep foundation. The distance between their bodies and instincts vanished.
In the days that followed they watched videos, listened to music, talked to musicologists and learned how to count sections of the composition. And they created choreography. Bill himself was unable to be there, so Anne and BTJ/AZ associate artistic director Janet Wong led the explorations and drills. The goal was to get the music into the bones. Most of the choreography that was created was riffing off an image that Bill had articulated of a Man … possibly Ulysses, walking. The sun on his back.
Each of the “Dactors” (Dancer-Actor) created a choreographic phrase that was called their “Dance of death.” It was a phrase that, if repeated long enough, would result in death. A work-in-progress showing was held at the end of the process.
SECOND REHEARSAL PERIOD: Saratoga Springs, NY
One of the fortunate circumstances that gave wind to the sails of this project was that BTJ/AZ Dance Company was to be the resident dance company in Skidmore College’s summer dance program. This meant that the two companies would be in Saratoga at the same time. Not only were rehearsals scheduled, but an unprecedented relationship between SITI’s theatre intensive and the dance program was set in motion, with shared classes, etc. This culminated with dance participants and theatre participants collaborating on the final compositions.
The BTJ/AZ Dance Company was performing at Saratoga Performing Arts Center during their residency, and they invited SITI Company to join them in one of their signature pieces, “Continuous Replay.” This was not the first time SITI had performed with a major modern dance company, but it was the first time they had done it … naked!
While all of this was going on, the two companies met in the evenings and continued working on “The Rite.” One evening after rehearsal, a mixed group of the two companies got together in one of the dorm apartments, turned out the lights, turned on the music and improvised the entire 30 minutes of “The Rite.” This led to a rehearsal practice in the studio: Turn on “The Rite of Spring” … GO! Keep going until it ends.
Once again, a work-in-progress showing was held.
MUSIC REHEARSAL: New York City
During the week after finishing in Saratoga, the Dactors met twice in New York to work on learning a vocal arrangement of the “Augers of Spring” section of “The Rite.”
THIRD REHEARSAL PERIOD: New York City
In the fall of 2012 the company met in BTJ/AZ’s home at New York Live Arts, to work for one week. The emphasis was on reviewing, clarifying and deepening the material as it had existed in Saratoga. Time was also spent furthering the work on singing the Augers.
FINAL REHEARSAL PERIOD: New York City
In December the full company gathered in New York for the final push on the project. Aside from holiday and travel breaks, it was to be pretty much a straight shot all the way to the premier in Chapel Hill in late Jaunary.
The process was hard. The subject matter of The Rite was so huge and heavy, and loaded with historic landmines that it was extreamly difficult to not get dissoriented. Basic questions of where the focus is, and what kind of work the piece was to be were alive in the room and kicking back against forward momentum. And after six months of work, the premier was looming ever more omonously. Inseperable from this were conflicts born of the two different processes that were active. The way Bill T. Jones works is very different from the way Anne and the SITI Company works and although there was a strong bedrock of mutual respect, on a day-to-day level, there was a lot of frustration and stress.
The design team of Darron L West (sound), James Schutte (costumes/set) and Robert Wierzel (lights) began meeting with the directing team of Anne, Bill and Janet regularly, and the world of the production began to take shape.
A second piece of vocal music was also added, and the company learned how to sing the “Spring Rounds” section in addition to “The Augurs”.
Despite the fact that the piece was not finished, the first half was put on it’s feet with lights on the stage at NYLA and the New York City rehearsals culminated with a showing of Act 1 for the attendees of the APAP presenters conference.
TECHNICAL REHEARSALS/PREMIER: Chapel Hill, NC
So almost nine months after starting the process, the two companies returned to Chapel Hill, checked into the same Residence Inn, and got to work, finishing A Rite! Instead of alternating training, a “combo-class” evolved which allowed the performers (who were now tired of the term “dactor”) to prepare for the unique needs of this performance. The finalizing of the end of the show, and the teching of the entire show were concurrent processes.
The premiere of A Rite was scheduled for the 25th of January. However an unusually severe winter storm closed enough of the surrounding area that the performance was cancelled. The show was run for a small group of VIPs (including the New York Times).
A Rite finally premiered the following day, January 26th, 2013 to an enthusiastic, full house.
As difficult as the process was, there was no doubt about two things: A Rite is a substantial work with a future and SITI Company and BTJ/AZ are in love…
English translation of In Spring by Shuntaro Tanikawa
What is this feeling?
This invisible flow of energy
That comes up from the earth, into the soles of my feet
Coming through my stomach, to my chest, then up into my throat
Welling up inside me, making me want to shout out loud
What is this feeling?
Buds bursting out from the tips of tree branches, poking at my heart
It is delight, but also grief
It is agitation, and yet tranquility
It is longing, with hidden anger
Held in check by the dam in my heart
But the whirlpools, held back, grow fierce
Trying to flood over
What is this feeling?
I want to dip my hand into the sky’s blue
All the people I’ve never met -
I want to meet them, I want to talk to them
I wish tomorrow and the day after tomorrow would come all at once
I feel so impatient
I want to walk beyond the horizon
And yet, I want to stay right here on this patch of grass, motionless
I want to call out to someone in a loud voice
And yet, I want to be alone in silence
What is this feeling?