Sasha Waltz "Sacre"
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Choreographer: Sasha Waltz
Costume Designer: Bernd Skodzig
Stage Designers: Pia Maier Schriever, Sasha Waltz
Lighting Designer: Thilo Reuther
Assistant Choreographers: Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Luc Dunberry, Antonio Ruz and Yael Schnell
The history behind Le Sacre du printemps is the story of a challenge. Stravinsky’s music, which totally transformed views of composition technique and proved to be a breakthrough to new possibilities in music, was a challenge to the entire world’s professional experience. Nijinsky’s choreography with its approach to movement, its lack of correlation about the traditional ballet image of what is expressed and depicted heralded a new stage in the development of dance. The choreographer was drawn by the nature of ritual, the force of feeling the coming of spring and the terror of the insoluble and secret universe – the comprehension of the not so much externally formal components as the energetic message of the event. The rejection of the typical beauty of ballet was a challenge to refined audiences and the aestheticism of the World of Art. Since the premiere on 30 May 1913, when the audience was not ready for such a huge leap forwards, this challenge has remained an integral part of people’s ideas about Le Sacre du printemps. Each subsequent dance version of the score has been connected with the expectation of radical innovation. And the most significant of some two hundred dance versions of Le Sacrehave provided revelations. Le Sacre du printemps proved to be a driving force in dance in the 20th century.
For any choreographer of the 21st century creating their own Sacre, the importance of the great productions of their predecessors and their significance on the world scale makes citations all but inevitable. Sasha Waltz’s production also includes numerous references to masterpieces of the past. In creating her own version in the year of the work’s centenary, Waltz did not abandon the recognisable steps and leaps of the characters in Nijinsky’s ritualistic plot, seemingly so ridiculous to audiences in the early 20th century. In her Sacre one can also see recollections of Pina Bausch’s cult production – earth scattered on the stage and the striking dress in which the victim is “marked out”. Sasha Waltz, in using brief reminiscent symbols that remind us of themes touched on in earlier productions, has created her own story within the context of the ideas of those who came before her.
Her story is about human society. From the initial and serene harmony of Adam and Eve it comes to chaos and the necessity of a victim. And the mound of earth in the centre of the stage in the first scene is a kind of embodiment of nature, inherent harmony which will be trampled upon. On the other hand, this mound of earth is a reminder of the inevitability of sacrifice and death, as the sacrificial stake or the sword is slowly lowered over them during the performance – a sacrificial emblem.
Waltz does not separate any of society’s worries or aggressions. The performers in her production depict various social groups: couples, families, mankind in general. But that doesn’t bring harmony, it doesn’t stop the cruelty. The women who carry the thread of life, as if sensing the power that nature has given them, come together – here we see the motif of the battle of the sexes. Whatever society anyone may belong to resistance is inherent in human society’s forms, and independent of how society is structured there are inevitable and powerful shocks that Sasha Waltz expresses in movement: an organised mass that repeats one and the same movement in monotones, “expresses” and disperses in the chaos of individuals’ movements. The cataclysms that are experienced bring suffering to all – including children (Waltz includes some children in her narrative). In order to save and cure society a sacrifice must be made.
Waltz heard anxiety in Stravinsky’s rhythm and in her reading of the score of Le Sacre, following the cyclical nature of the music, she supercharges this anxiety with the composition and graphic position of the ensemble (the crowd is the main character in her production), the kaleidoscopic changes of distinct geometric structures against the background of the confusing chaos of worry, there is anxiety and there are nervous “sparks” in the movements. Just like Pina Bausch, the German Sasha Waltz depicts numerous accidental victims of aggression. She does not justify society. Yet her production of Le Sacre, as with Stravinsky and as Nijinsky conceived, remains a spring of hope for revival. This is not the optimism of Béjart’s Sacre with its hymn of love and belief in the power of unity. There is a victim who dies in the finale of Waltz’ version. She is not a chance victim of nature – she is sought out and pitied. She is one of that society and turns out to be resistant to it – she is the individual facing the masses. Her final monologue is a powerful energetic explosion which brings hope with the sheer power of its temper. All of the incandescent energy built up throughout the plot bursts out in this “final word”, and its power is bewitching, bringing us – if not to catharsis – to amazement at the power Sasha Waltz has managed to recreate on the stage.
Premiere of the ballet with choreography by Sasha Waltz: 13 May 2013, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Running time: 40 minutes
Basically I focus on ancient rituals and the wisdom and the knowledge of wise men, as well as the history of the matriarch. I am also very interested in society’s relationship with nature. I always take a long time with any new production, the concept “hovers” around me but I never start to work until I have a very clear idea. In this production I want to speak about the relationship between society and the individual and how they interact in specific situations – such as having one person forced to sacrifice herself so that society can continue to exist. Rituals are also very cyclical – they celebrate the return of the cycle of nature and the universe, the stars… This is very important to me – you have, on one hand, the ritual, the cycle, nature, but also the relationships within the group – the community or society – and the individual. On the one hand I wanted to emphasise the music and, on the other, I didn’t want to yield to it. The music itself is incredibly powerful, so I needed to keep my “universe” independent so that it can stand alone. That’s how you get a dialogue – not just following the music. In my productions everything is free – both the dance and the music. They are two very independent art forms and they should not be enslaved to each other.
The century-long life of Stravinsky’s ballet has resulted in the polyphonic quality of the ideas it contains. But the animalistic nature, the frenzy and the passion which those who interpret Le Sacre du printemps have generally been fed is not what attracts Waltz. She looks at Stravinsky’s score with the interest and detachment of a professional biologist, and it is not just the case that you have to look at her production – you want to look at it as well, making sense of the constructions which are not always clear.
Sasha Waltz’ production even amazes to start with because of its asceticism. There is the black box of the stage without wings. In the middle there is a great heap of cinders – the dancers run and jump through it and over it, raising clouds of dust. The main conflict in Sasha Waltz’ Sacre is a group of people against an individual. There is also, of course, the theme of nature awakening – a nature that is evil and violent, aggressive and defenceless.
Vaslav Nijinsky "Le Sacre du printemps"
Musiс by Igor Stravinsky
Scene plan: Igor Stravinsky and Nicholas Roerich
Choreography by Millicent Hodson (1987) inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky (1913)
Décor and costumes after Nicholas Roerich
Revival of the sets and costumes and supervision – Kenneth Archer
(Revived sets and costumes © 1987 Kenneth Archer)
Set Revival Designer – Boris Kaminsky
Costume Revival Technologist – Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer – Sergei Lukin
World premiere of the ballet choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky: 29 May 1913, Les Ballets Russes de Serge de Diaghilev, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 9 June 2003
Premiere of the revival: 13 July 2012
Running time 40 minutes
”I came up with the idea for Le Sacre du printemps while I was still composing The Firebird. I pictured a scene of some pagan rite in which a girl who was to be the sacrifice dances herself to death. But this vision came with no specific musical idea at all <…>. I told Diaghilev of Le Sacre du printemps even before he came to see me in Lausanne in late 1910 <…>. In July 1911, after the premiere of Pétrouchka, I travelled to the estate of Princess Tenisheva near Smolensk in order to meet Nicholas Roerich there and compile a stage plan for Le Sacre du printemps. I began to work with Roerich and in a few days’ time the plan of the action onstage and the names of the dances had been worked out. Roerich also made sketches of his famous backdrops, Polovtsian in spirit, as well as sketches for the costumes based on actual examples in the collection of Princess Tenisheva. Apropos, our ballet was called Sacred Spring in Russian. Le Sacre du printemps which Bakst came up with is only suitable for French. In English, the title The Coronation of Spring was closer to my original idea than The Rite of Spring.
<…> I made haste to complete Le Sacre as I wanted Diaghilev to stage it in the 1912 season. <…> The fact that the premiere of Le Sacre du printemps was surrounded by scandal is a fact probably known by everyone now. Although, however strange it may seem, I myself was totally unprepared for such an explosion of passions. The reaction of the musicians to orchestral rehearsals had not foretold this, while the plot unfolding on the stage didn’t really seem to justify causing such a riot. The ballet dancers had rehearsed for months and knew what they were doing, although what they were doing often had nothing in common with the music. “I will count to forty; in the meantime you can play,” Nijinsky said to me, “and we’ll see where we become separated.” He couldn’t understand that if, indeed, we became separated in one particular instance it didn’t mean that the rest of the time we had been together. The dancers chose to follow the counts that Nijinsky beat out rather than the musical tempo. Nijinsky, of course, counted in Russian, and in as much as in Russian numbers after ten are made up of numerous syllables – vosemnadtsat (eighteen), for example – at a fast tempo neither he nor the dancers could follow the music.
After 1913 I saw only one stage production of Le Sacre du printemps – that was Diaghilev’s revival in 1920. Then the accord between the music and the dance was better than in 1913, but Massine’s choreography was too gymnastic and in the style of Dalcroze for meto like it.
It was then that I understood that I preferred Le Sacre du printemps to be performed in concert. Twice I reworked a few sections from Le Sacre du printemps – in 1921 for Diaghilev’s production and then in 1943 (only The Great Sacrificial Dance) for a performance (which never took place) by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. <…> But I could rework my own music endlessly <…>. When composing Le Sacre du printemps I was led by no specific system. <…> It was only my sense of sound that helped me. I heard and wrote down only what I heard. I was the vessel through which Le Sacre du printemps passed.”