Ever since Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes in 1913, it has proved catnip for choreographers – and who can blame them? It remains one of music’s most spectacular game-changers, its poisonous dissonances and rhythms miraculously still sounding refreshingly modern. No wonder that three dance works directly or indirectly inspired by the score have premiered in London in the last four months alone.
Although established in 2019, the latest to open in the capital is by British-Asian dancer-choreographer Seeta Patel. Trained in Bharatanatyam, one of the eight officially recognized classical dance forms of India (originating in Tamil Nadu in the southeast of the country), she serves a two-part evening here, the first half of which turns out to be a very substantial hors-d’. work to the second.
Part one, Shree – set to ethereal Indian music and performed live by a magnificent trio seated elevated at the back of the stage – is a long, beautiful, powerful solo in which Patel herself narrates Mother Earth’s transition from birth to recorded destruction. The second half – her new rite, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits now sensitively belting out Stravinsky – then becomes a kind of “liberation”. It completely turns the traditional rite on its head, with the (male) chosen one transforming into a mother-earth-like deity who effectively consumes the 11 worshipers like a giant, imperious puppet.
Shree reveals Patel to be an exquisite dancer, using every bone in her body (and every muscle in her face) to communicate the budding of breath and life. Her combination of proud poise and the precision of a Swiss watch as she unrolls and devours her limbs is true poetry, never more enchanting than when she conjures birds and butterflies out of thin air with her hands and even single fingers.
Coincidentally, those butterflies return (along with an unmistakable reverence for nature) in Patel’s Rite, in which she’s replaced onstage by a 12-piece ensemble blood-filled with the complex geometries of her steps. But there’s a more sinister edge here as the troupe’s fingers flutter delicately toward the lad 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 wild crescendos, bharatanatyam is arguably too refined and precise a discipline to generate the sheer wild weight that Kenneth MacMillan and Pina Bausch (particularly) delivered in earlier Rites have . Nonetheless, theirs – complete with a seraphic little interlude – is a more than worthy addition to the canon, the evening a fascinating blend of Eastern and Western classical traditions, with beauty and surprises everywhere.
See you tonight (March 14) at Sadler’s, then on tour later this year: seetapateldance.com/tour