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RITES (article first published : 2000-10-12)

Based on the ancient Slavonic ritual of spring, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky to music by Igor Stravinsky who also co-wrote the libretto with Nicholas Roerich. On its opening night in Paris on May 29, 1913, performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, it created such a furore from the audience that the orchestra was all but drowned. The reason? Nijinsky had not only openly flaunted dance convention but had dealt with barbarity, a socially taboo subject up until then.

The original piece has two parts. The first deals with the adoration of the earth while the second features the sacrifice of a young maiden. In order to appease the God of Spring, she literally dances herself to death. The work is all about primitive rites, pagan worship and dark forces with music that is whirling, passionate and unsettling.

An acclaimed and award-winning choreographer and dance lecturer at Technikon Natal, Jay Pather has chosen to take this work, set it fairly and squarely in today’s South Africa and focus it on feminine issues. He has taken elements of local traditional folk dance such as indlamu and Indian classical movements and cleverly interwoven them into a dramatic contemporary dance piece which he has titled, simply, Rites.

Interspersed with the dance, Jay has introduced several dramatic scenes played in a stylised way direct to the audience. These workable vignettes have been created by cast members who put in some of the best and most articulated, sincere performances I’ve seen from drama students in a while.

There is an argument between an embattled married couple which ends in the woman being slapped by the man. A young girl tries to understand the emotions of her two friends until she discovers the one has stolen the affections of the other’s boyfriend. A strong scene depicts young men ogling women in a shopping mall when they hear their friend boasting of a gang rape. Another poignant moment is that of a daughter telling her mother that “tradition scares us” after she has been forced to undergo a virginity test.

The resulting programme is a complex and challenging work for these young students and in the main, they cope well. There is much ensemble work and the imagery is strong and exciting, particularly when the sacrificed maiden is carried off on poles like a dead buck after a hunt. Another highly visual scene involves the flamboyant use of huge scarves.

While laying bare the entire stage – even the legs (black side curtains) are rolled up, Jay Pather has also taken the courageous step of opening the steel door at the back of the theatre, usually used to load scenery onto the stage. This means that the audience sees through to the road outside with passers-by and real life, as it were, is brought right into the theatre.

Lighting design is by Richard Parker and Pam Wilson has been in charge of the costumes.

Technikon Natal drama department is producing some good theatre – it’s worth keeping an eye on what’s happening at The Courtyard Theatre. Rites will run until October 11 at 19h30. Book at the theatre on 204-2532.




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