“A Rite”

Bill T. Jones/ Ernie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company
Anne Bogart, director

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,  Lam Research Theater,  San Francisco

Oct. 13-15, 2013

Since the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” on May 29, 1913, both music and dance concerts have celebrated the unique nature of Stravinsky’s work. What is less celebrated, except for the riot it produced, is Nijinsky’s choreography for “Le Scare du printemps,” as it is originally titled. The Paris audiences of 1913 screamed and damned the unusual dance design, set in “primitive” Russia, the turned-in feet and “grotesque” movement of the dancers and the naturalist “primitive” costumes that Stravinsky had researched.

Nevertheless, the piece has been copied endlessly in wide variations.

The Bill T. Jones/Anne Bogart production departs as far as one can go from the original. Basically, there is no “rite,” no ritual…mostly there is riot.

Rather than resort to the original idea, the sacrifice of a virgin to bring life renewal to the community, the central figure, a veteran (Will Bond) is haunted as by images of war. He emerges amidst a stomping, hooting, falling, lifting, flailing, goose-stepping group, made up of a six actors from Ann Bogart’s SITI Company and nine dancers from the Jones/Zane group. Actors and dancers work well together: there is much energy exerted as the veteran attempts rehabilitation, but finally succumbs to anger, shooting all. There is a promised “afterward”: he walks back and forth, hidden, upstage. His personal riot continues. War is endless.

None of this is very clear, however, since the “through line” is fused with an analysis of the musical score (well scripted and delivered by actress Ellen Lauren.) A scientist type, actor Stephen Duff Webber, also analyzes the music. But where is the recognition of the dance?

Jones gives the group wild, flying movement to some of “Le Sacre’s” music selections, adding the dis-harmony of the score sung and hummed. Much of this is amusing, if you know the score and the joke. Otherwise it is much of mayhem.

Visually, much credit goes to lighting designer Robert Wierzel. He created a quality of lighting that intensified the harshness of the scene yet made it fascinating to observe. There is no specific set designer designated, but Wierzel’s lights were thrown on good black set strips.

Company members, all good movers, are Akiko Aizama (actor); Will Bond (actor); Antonia Brown (dancer); Leon Ingulsrud (actor); Talli Jackson (dancer); Sayla-Vie Jenkins (dancer); Ellen Lauren (actor); La Michael Leonard Jr. (dancer); I-Ling Liu (dancer); Erick Monetes Chavero (dancer); Jennifer Nugent (dancer); Barney O’Hanlon (actor); Joseph Paulson (dancer); Jenny Riegel (dancer); and Stephen Duff Webber (actor).

A celebration of the Jones/Zane 30th anniversary continued throughout the week with exhibitions, symposia, other performances (“Time/Study’) and an elegant program with much writing. Alas, for this reviewer, the work is in the dance, not in the written musings. Art may be political propaganda, but it fails when that is its message.

San Francisco, CA
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.