'Rite of Spring' dance reborn at UC Irvine

UC Irvine's dance production based on "The Rite of Spring" may jolt the audience in places, but it won't have nearly the impact that the original did in 1913. And there are several people to blame for that.

Lenny Bruce. Hugh Hefner. The Sex Pistols. Quentin Tarantino. The creators of "South Park." And anyone else, frankly, who shocked the status quo over the last 100 years.

When "The Rite of Spring," the brainchild of composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, premiered in Paris, it drew one of the most infamous opening-night receptions in history. Some patrons booed, some rioted. Critics savaged the work for its dissonant melodies and provocative dancing, while respected composer Giacomo Puccini called it "the work of a madman."

Next week, UCI's Claire Trevor School of the Arts will present "Visions of The Rite of Spring," which takes Stravinsky and Nijinsky's original concept and twists it into a show even more outlandish. But in tackling such a project, director John Crawford faced a tough question: Can anything be truly outrageous in an age where anything goes?

"It's been in the forefront of my mind ever since we decided to do this," Crawford said. "It's pretty hard to shock people now the way 'The Rite of Spring' shocked people 100 years ago."

So even when UCI's production gets genuinely bizarre — say, when three women squeeze into a slender glass case and do a dance that seems to vacillate in and out of slow motion — it's unlikely that anyone in the crowd will throw punches or fire off an outraged letter to the editor. What they may do, if they're historically savvy, is ponder how jaded Western eyes and ears have grown since that day in Paris a century ago.

Still, "Visions of The Rite of Spring" may offer a few surprises for those who consider the original old hat. Only a small portion of the music adheres to Stravinsky's score, with other portions deconstructed or reimagined by faculty composers. The choreography, likewise, plays fast and loose with the source material.

And the dancers plan to do something that might not have been wise in 1913: letting the audience get right next to them. Before and after the main performances in the Claire Trevor Theatre, students and faculty will hold a separate show, titled "The Sacre Project," in the nearby Contemporary Arts Center. During that half-hour performance, visitors can roam freely and mill around the dancers in a setting that Crawford likens to an art gallery.

The program features dancers performing routines in five stations, or "pods," around the room before climaxing in the famous final scene of "The Rite of Spring." That would be the Sacrificial Dance, in which a young girl is selected as the Chosen One and forced to dance herself to death.

Professor Jodie Gates, who choreographed the segment, opted for a dose of art-imitates-life: Each of the 10 dancers who gather on the stage has practiced the Chosen One dance, but only one will be tapped to perform it at each show. Midway through the performance, Gates will order a spotlight shone on that dancer — who, like the character, will be surprised by the selection.

Undergraduate Karen Wing, one of the Chosen Ones, said the anticipation may feed into her performance when the time comes.

"Part of the emotions involved — being chosen and knowing you're dancing yourself to death, and having that sprung on you — I think you can use that," she said.


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

If You Go

What: "Visions of The Rite of Spring"

Where: Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine

When: The main performance, "Dance Visions," starts at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 through 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 23, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Claire Trevor Theatre. "The Sacre Project," a separate dance performance, begins in the Contemporary Arts Center one hour before and one hour after each performance of "Dance Visions."

Cost: $11 to $20

Information: (949) 824-2787, http://www.arts.uci.edu/tickets or embodied.net/sacre

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