Festival Dance

The Rite of Spring/Common Ground[s]

Edinburgh Playhouse

Mary Brennan

Five stars

In 1978, Pina Bausch’s blisteringly radical Rite of Spring had its UK debut at the Edinburgh Festival. Then, the bare feet that pounded and scuffed the earth-covered stage belonged to her own Wupperthal-based company. Now that choreography returns – but the feet belong to over 30 dancers from 14 African nations, gathered together specifically for this visionary project directed by senior members of Bausch’s own company.

From the moment the first women drift into view – like wraiths in their ecru-pale slips – you sense the dynamic of Stravinsky’s Rite has taken on fascinatingly different resonances: no longer caught in frozen Russian wastes, but thrumming with the ingrained patriarchy of an African tribal community.

You can feel the rising dread in the women, even before the men sweep in. Bare-chested, potently athletic, they assume the right to dominate the women, use them as they see fit, decide which one will be chosen to sacrifice herself.

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In keeping with Stravinsky’s score, the tensions build relentlessly. The fateful red dress that signifies victimhood passes from one reluctant woman to another, terror evident in every move as they rush, spin and flock together with no hope of escape.

The dancing throughout is a tour de force, a meticulous and nuanced embodiment of Bausch’s insights into antagonism between the sexes. It’s gut-wrenchingly intense, ever more so as the Chosen One plunges into the dance frenzy that ends her life. These dancers make it feel harrowingly real – there are uncomfortable truths in here that are of our own time, this Rite reminds us of them.

The interval is a bravura performance in itself, as the stage is rhythmically covered with earth. Before that, Common Ground[s] sees Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo – both in their seventies – celebrate the wise strengths they share despite coming from different cultures. It’s a duet filled with grace, tenderness and humour – truly uplifting on every level.