Festival Dance review: Rite of Spring, Festival Theater, Edinburgh
Theater Festival, Edinburgh
Even before taking a seat, solemn gongs sound. A Buddhist monk in a red robe collects large golden Chinese characters and arranges them in carefully structured patterns.
In the middle of this forming circle are ten women: dressed in opulent traditional outfits and jeweled headdresses, they sit cross-legged in meditative stillness.
Another world is about to open up before us, full of mythical images and ancient rituals – linked to the music and story of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring but referring instead to Buddhist philosophies.
In the pagan Russia which inspired Stravinsky, the villagers chose the sacrificial virgin. In Yang Liping’s choreography, the women, embracing the belief of reincarnation, claim to be the chosen one whose death will bless the whole community.
When that moment arrives, signaled by the iconic presence of the White Lion, the delicate and praying demeanor of women is abandoned. Stravinsky’s music bursts into the contemporary score (composed by He Xuntian) and, abandoned adornment, the women with colored bodies twirl and leap in frenzied ecstasies.
An erotic charge arises through the movement – when greedy females surrender, it is in acts of urgent mating with the male shaman (a vigorously athletic Da Zhu) who is the White Lion incarnate. Spring will return, the energies of fruitful nature have been released, and as the monk calmly restores order to the chaotic scene, the women return in their exquisite ceremonial attire, flaunting skirts vaporous like peacock plumage, metaphor beauty, purity and life and a personal motive in Liping’s own career.
The piece is breathtaking throughout. Tim Yip’s designs (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) are visually striking – never more so than in the bright, fluorescent costumes of the dancers who sway like soft tendrils of plants, emerging from the darkness.
These same dancers react relentlessly to the physical changes of Liping’s demanding and dynamic choreography in an absolutely different Rite of Spring.