Making her second appearance at the Brisbane Festival following her 2017 smash hit ‘Under Siege’, Chinese dance icon and choreographer Yang Liping returns with her visually stunning reinterpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece 'The Rite of Spring'.
Originally written for the 1913 season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the avant-garde nature of the music, and suggestive choreography caused a 'near-riot' when it opened in Paris nearly 106 years ago.
Combining traditional Chinese peacock dance with modern choreography, stunning lighting, extraordinary costumes and lavish stage effects, Liping has boldly reimagined one of the 20th century’s most celebrated musical scores for dance.
For those unfamiliar with the original work, the concept behind 'The Rite' centres on various pagan rituals celebrating the advent of spring; after which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death.
In Yang Liping’s production, 'The Rite of Spring' is redefined from the perspective of Eastern aesthetics, wisdom and philosophy and rather than being taken, the young girl offers herself as a sacrifice in an act of agency for the common good, because she believes in the Tibetan cycles of life and death and ultimately, reincarnation.
However, this apparently minor juxtaposition in the storyline changes the core of the narrative, and adds to what is already a confusing piece laden with metaphors and symbols borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism.
Image © Qiansheng Zhao
The production opens with a Buddhist monk carefully distributing Chinese characters in piles on the stage while 14 female dancers sit motionless waiting for the theatre to fill. It is a prelude to the mystical nature of the performance, and while it is clear each of the characters have relevance, for those that do not know their meaning it simply adds another layer of confusion to what is already a complex story – originally constructed in three sections – Incantation, Sacrifice and Renewal.
A superstar in her home country, and recognised internationally for her extravagant and breathtakingly beautiful dance works, Yang Liping’s ability as a director and choreographer is never in question; nor is the beauty of the updated score created by celebrated composer Xuntian who has added Tibetan intonations to the arrangement.
Over the years, Yang Liping has shown that she is not afraid to take risks. In fact, she founded her Peacock Contemporary Dance Company as a not-for-profit structure so artists could experiment and push the boundaries of their art form. Indeed, it may be her penchant for risk that undermines this work. In attempting to rework this masterpiece, much is lost in the translation, both literally and figuratively.
However, that is not to say she hasn’t created a memorable piece of dance theatre. For those wanting an eye-popping, immersive and visual experience second to none, Liping and her team, including Oscar-winning designer Timmy Yip ('Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon') have delivered an astonishingly detailed and exquisitely beautiful piece that is both erotic and mesmerising.
'Rite Of Spring' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 28 September.