Kudelka’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ Lustful Mayhem

Photo Courtesy of BalletMet Columbus.

BalletMet Columbus – The Rite of Spring
Ohio Theatre – Columbus, OH
March 23, 2013

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It must have felt like deja vu for James Kudelka. The former artistic director and chief choreographer of the National Ballet of Canada hadn’t worn both those hats together since 2005. This season he did that again but to a lesser extent for BalletMet Columbus, where he took over the reigns from departing artistic director Gerard Charles on a temporarily basis as the company’s artistic consultant. He also assumed the role of choreographer creating a brand new The Rite of Spring ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” (The Rite of Spring).

The program, in collaboration with the Columbus Symphony under the baton of Jean-Marie Zeitouni, featured two additional ballets beyond Kudelka’s world premiere of The Rite of Spring. It began with Amedeo Amodio’s version of another Vaslav Nijinsky favorite, Afternoon of a Faun (1985).

Set to Claude Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”, Amodio’s “Faun”, a contemporary ballet duet danced by BalletMet’s Bethany Lee and David Ward, bore little resemblance to Nijinsky’s 1912 ballet inspired by ancient Greek vase paintings. It did however tap into the sexual undertones in Nijinsky’s original with Lee and Ward’s characters in the duet appearing to engage in an animalistic mating dance. The dancers, aloof at first, began with solos whose movement language was reminiscent of some of choreographer Paul Taylor’s works. The pair drifted back and forth across the stage in a quiet courtship before coming together with Lee draping her body over Ward’s back. Their dance then morphed into a tangle of delicately intertwining bodies. Both dancers performed the ballet with feeling but Amodio’s choreography for it lacked substance and in the end it proved unfulfilling.

Next, longtime BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante’s Rapsodie Espagnole introduced a Spanish flair to the proceedings as a trio of female dancers, all in black down to their pointe shoes, moved across the stage in a horizontal line swishing their full skirts to Maurice Ravel’s sultry tone poem of the same name. A line of three men then joined them and together they gave the appearance of watching figures in music box perform a Flamenco-esque dance. Orrante’s choreography, although littered with cliched “Spanishy” dance movement, had an ease to it. It was both musical and sensual and was performed nicely by BalletMet’s dancers especially Gabriel Smith, who danced with machismo, and Courtney Muscroft, whose gracefully fluid motion was mesmerizing.

Photo Courtesy of BalletMet Columbus.

Much had been written about Kudelka’s The Rite of Spring prior to its debut. In The Columbus Dispatch Kudelka inferred that the ballet, unlike Nijinsky’s 1913 original for the Ballets Russes, had no storyline and would be a reaction to Stravinsky’s powerful “Rite” score. We also learned that BalletMet’s dancers had picked out their costumes for the ballet at random from the company’s wardrobe collection. The latter was evident from the outset of the ballet as a group of 20 dancers dressed in a mishmash of clothing chosen, it appeared, for comfort over style, ebbed and flowed onto the front half of the Ohio Theatre stage. Performing on a large swath of green dance marley flooring with the Columbus Symphony behind them, BalletMet’s dancers formed a sort of rugby scrum, with two opposing groups, one led by Orrante and the other by dancer Jackson Sarver, pushing and pulling en mass to move the scrum about the stage.

While Kudelka’s choreography for the ballet may not have suggested a particular linear storyline, it did appear to suggest an underlying theme of mayhem and carnal lust. Looking like adrenaline-fueled youths at a summer music festival, BalletMet’s dancers swelled and receded with aggressive moshpit physicality into large and small groups that came and went from the stage. Kudelka’s choreography, a mix of contemporary ballet and folk dance with a hint of the paganistic movement in Nijinsky’s original, was combative and full of raw sexual energy. In one scene two women were lifted high into the air, groins colliding together as they clawed at one another in a sort of controlled cat fight.

True to Kudelka’s intent, the ballet captured in movement the power, punch and tonal qualities of Stravinsky’s score for the ballet performed passionately by the Columbus Symphony. Amid its paganistic organized chaos, dancer Keri Riccardi in a floral dress, drifted back and forth across the stage drawing audience eyes to her yet unseen by the onstage rabble until ballet’s end when she caught the notice of Orrante and Sarver becoming their ultimate object of desire, their “chosen one”, who they nabbed and whose fate was left to the imagination as the ballet ended.  

Brilliantly performed by BalletMet’s ensemble cast, Kudelka’s The Rite of Spring drilled deep into the viewer imprinting vivid imagery and stirring emotions; both of which had staying power lasting long after the curtain fell.

Photo Courtesy of BalletMet Columbus.

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