It seems there comes a point in every choreographer’s career when one decides to tackle The Rite of Spring.  To create one’s own Rite of Spring, in the shadow of such heavyweights as Nijinsky, Bausch and MacMillan, is brave to say the least. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s The Rite of Spring for his company Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre is not only brave in this regard: it is daring in its deviance from the traditional narrative and in some of the striking, and dare I say, more outlandish decisions, which are also a feature of the second piece in the performance, Petrushka.

For one thing, the choice to begin The Rite of Spring not with that haunting bassoon solo that has become so iconic, the note which draws us back into the past, but instead with an actor singing a traditional folk song about a hare killed on the hunt, immediately signify that this is not going to be a Rite of Spring which plays by the rules.

The most interesting aspect of this version is the inter-play between genders. In a predominantly male cast the four female dancers provide a sense of individuality, each very different in her physicality and performance. By contrast, the male cast are comparable to a Greek chorus, seeming to have but one voice, and they provide a damning statement on male dominance and the baser instincts which accompany it. They are at times sexually frustrated – at one point they strip to their underwear, and appear to make love to the floor, moaning and writhing demonically whilst the women stand above them, looking on expressionless.  This frustration also manifests itself in aggression, as is chillingly conveyed in a hellish rape scene.

Towards the end of The Rite of Spring the men are stripped of their masculinity. They don women’s dresses and as they encircle the chosen virgin, the traditional powerplay between the onlookers and the chosen one is shifted. The virgin is powerful and athletic and seems to have some control over the emasculated men around her. The ending position is startling and unexpected; where we would expect the death of the virgin instead she alone is left standing on stage, arms spread wide and victorious, the men having collapsed around her.

This theme of emasculation continues into the second piece. Petrushka as a puppet is denied the status of being a “true man” and this is conveyed well by the androgynous female dancer, Rachel Poirier, who portrays him. In Keegan-Dolan’s Petrushka, the dancers appear all in white and the sense of a puppet theatre is conveyed by huge white hanging drapes all around the stage. The piece is incredibly self-aware, with the dancers at times directly looking and pointing at the audience and even on occasion addressing the audience vocally. In this way Keegan-Dolan is successful in capturing the unreality of Petrushka.

In both pieces Keegan-Dolan takes the traditional victim roles and turns them on their heads. The images are powerful although in both cases Keegan-Dolan has left a great deal of interpretation up to the audience. We are presented with a series of striking, often ambiguous, images set against the timelessness of Stravinsky’s music. The aesthetic is somewhat rough around the edges. The dancers have an untrained quality about their movement, which is no doubt intentional, perhaps meant to hark back to something primal and Nijinsky-esque, but unfortunately at times merely serves to lessen the impact of the choreography. At other times however this rawness manages to feed into a very primal energy which permeates the piece.

Overall, this is one of those shows that requires a good deal of after-thought, and probably a second viewing to really appreciate Keegan-Dolan’s message. It is certainly memorable, and certainly makes a case for itself as a worthy step in the continuous evolution of Stravinsky’s work.

Emily Romain

23rd April 2014