In 1913, Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring and Nijinsky’s choreography for Ballet Russes nearly caused a riot in Paris. The music, with its jarring experiments in meter, tonality and dissonance, along with themes of human sacrifices and pagan rituals, was a bit much for audiences.
More than a century later, hundreds of choreographers have created their own ballets to that music (for its centennial in 2013, there were dozens), and now you can add Joshua L. Peugh and his Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to that list.
His version of The Rite of Spring was presented in his company’s Spring Series Friday night at TCU’s Erma Lowe Hall Studio, and continues through Sunday.
His concept of using the spring ritual that most American teens participate in, high school prom, is inspired. But don’t be fooled by the flirty, 1960s dresses (costumes by Susan Austin) or the stage design of a high school gym decorated with streamers and a mirror ball (scenic designer Carlos Nichols Mejia). This Rite is not a pretty affair.
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The dancers enter through the audience, selecting audience members to take onstage and dance, before seating them on benches around the stage, making them part of the ritual. The dance proceeds into alternate bouts of structured social dance patterns and utter chaos, which is fitting for the music.
The dancers seem emotionally detached but trade partners, a few of them stepping into the solo spotlight for Peugh’s movement of jagged limbs and odd spatial relationships.
Dancer Chadi El-Khoury is a transgender teen in seafoam blue dress, and Sarah Hammonds wears a tux, with both of them executing movements that would correspond with the gender they are dressed as.
Is the ballet saying something about how the students accept these two who don’t fit into their heteronormative roles at this teenage rite of passage? Possibly.
It’s always striking, exciting and marvelously danced by Peugh’s company.
Accompanying Rite of Spring is a world premiere from Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti called Here is Not There. Five dancers come out and immediately begin with spoken salutations to the audience in what seems like an endless run of “hi,” “hello,” “howdy,” “how are you?” and so forth. And instantly, the audience (if they’re like me) thinks, “Oh, it’s a modern dance with spoken text. Maybe that won’t last long.”
But it does. Aside from a few moments of glee or resolve, with music from Marguerite Mannot and Nancy Sinatra, there is no sound except for the dancers speaking in between and simultaneously with angular, jerky movements and outsized gesturing that jibe well with DCCD’s aesthetic.
Memories fuel feelings of happiness or sadness, and in the latter half the dancers read from rumpled sheets of paper. (Letters? Diary entries?) It doesn’t transcend the problem that most text-based dance works have of not emotionally connecting with the audience. And like most such works, it comes off as a mere curiosity.
8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
TCU, Erma Lowe Hall Studio, 3000 S. University Drive, Fort Worth