Ever since Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring in 1913 for the Ballets Russes, it has been a catnip for choreographers – and who can blame them? It remains one of the music’s most spectacular game-changers, its venomous dissonances and rhythms still, miraculously, sounding modern. No wonder three dance works directly or indirectly inspired by the soundtrack have had their London premieres in just the last four months.
Although created in 2019, the latest to open in the capital is British Asian dancer-choreographer Seeta Patel. Trained in bharatanatyam, one of India’s eight officially recognized forms of classical dance (originating in Tamil Nadu in the southeast of the country), she proposes here a two-part evening whose first half proves to be a very substantial starter work for the second .
The first part, Shree – set to ethereal Indian music, played live by a splendid trio, seated high up at the back of the stage – is a long, beautiful, powerful solo in which Patel herself recounts Mother Earth’s transition from birth to destruction . The second half – her new Rite, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirill Karabits now belting out Stravinsky – then becomes a sort of “liberation”. She completely overturns the traditional ritual by having the Chosen One (male) transform into an Earth Mother-like deity who effectively consumes the 11 worshipers as a giant, imperious pupa.
Shree reveals that Patel is an exquisite dancer, making full use of every bone in her body (and muscle in her face) to communicate the blossoming of breath and life. There is true poetry of her in her she combination of proud carriage and Swiss watch precision with which she unfolds and intertwines her limbs, never more bewitching than when she uses her hands and even individual fingers to conjure up birds and butterflies from nothing.
As it happens, those moths (along with an unmistakable reverence for nature) make a return in Patel’s Rite, in which she is replaced onstage by a dazzling 12-person ensemble pounced on the complex geometries of her footsteps. But here a more sinister aspect emerges, as the crew’s fingers move delicately towards the guy who turns out to be the Chosen One.
While there is no lack of energy in Patel’s Rite, not least in the group’s ferocious crescendos of revolutions, bharatanatyam is probably too refined and punctilious a discipline to generate the sheer savage weight that (especially) Kenneth MacMillan and Pina Bausch have expressed in the passed Rites . However, hers – complete with a small seraphic interlude – is a more than worthy addition to the canon, the evening a fascinating fusion of Eastern and Western classical traditions, with beauty and surprises everywhere.
At Sadler’s through Tonight (March 14), then on tour later this year: see tapateldance.com/tour