Financial Times, 18 juni:
A cure for ‘Rite’ fatigue: Shen Wei’s ‘Sacre’ is a stunningly pure realisation of Stravinsky’s score
You’d be forgiven for suffering from Rite of Spring fatigue at this point in a celebration-heavy centenary year. Dutch National Ballet’s is the latest in a long line of homage programmes, but mercifully it doesn’t feel like one. No reconstructions or history lessons here: the mandatory reinvention of the Rite is paired with a wholly new piece, Overture, and the company simply handed the whole business over to two masters of dance geometry, David Dawson and Shen Wei.
British-born Dawson carved out his choreographic career in the Netherlands and Germany, and while he will create his first piece for the Royal Ballet in the autumn, his work is emphatically continental in feel. Post-Forsythe bodies populate the stage in Overture, arms overstretched, arabesques arched high, costumes neon-bright. Like a game of dominoes, the dancers’ neat lines and patterns soon give way to new shapes, and the cast never stops moving, reordering itself like so many lines of code. (Laura Cappelle)This quasi-digital stage world gets much of its warmth from the score, designed by Szymon Brzóska as a companion to Stravinsky. It is a wonderful piece, with abrupt transitions from metallic beats to moody, cinematic sections, but Dawson’s take on solitude in the electronic age is undercut by conventionally acrobatic partnering and a saccharine afterthought of a final image.
So much has been written about The Rite of Spring , so many steps choreographed, that being knocked sideways by a new version is a rare occurrence. But that’s what Shen Wei has accomplished: never, in my experience, has a Rite so fully realised Stravinsky’s maverick score. Wei, who choreographed the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, does away entirely with the linear narrative at the heart of Nijinsky’s original ballet and most versions since, the sacrifice of a Chosen One. Instead of human tragedy, he gives us abstract dance drama in a stunningly pure expression of the music’s impulsive contrasts.
This Sacre starts in silence, with a circle of dancers. Like a watercolour forest slowly awakening in their pastel unitards, they start shuffling, randomly following one melodic line or another. Order morphs into chaos and back, with patterns arising from nowhere; when the score grows urgent, dancers break out into small, brief solos (the elfin Erica Horwood is a standout throughout).
The movement is simple, with arms flowing into spirals and turns, but Wei is alive to every aspect of the score. With his 30 dancers, he gives us an organism weathering the unpredictable, and drawing its internal logic from it, step by step. Only the most stormy section, halfway through, sees them stand still, eyes closed, perhaps waiting for spring. “See the music, hear the dance,” Balanchine is supposed to have said; Wei achieves just that.
Volkskrant, 18 June:
Dutch National Ballet takes on challenge in an inspiring ‘Sacre’
The difference in colour of the dance outfits just about says it all. Contrasting with Dawson’s fluorescent hues are Shen Wei’s soft pastels in grey, blue, green and purple. Whereas Overture by Dawson puts classical ballet in top gear, Sacre du Printemps by Shen Wei demands a modest virtuosity and organic flow of the dancers, which it is sometimes clear they are not used to. These large-scale, brand-new dance productions by international hotshots to live music – all ingredients for a typical Holland Festival celebration – present the Dutch National Ballet with a big challenge.
You could call both ballets a journey through life; a timeline filled with subdued tension that erupts at times and ebbs away at others. The group gallops forth along these lines, within which various fleeting relationships are created, especially in the case of Dawson (who started his choreographic career with the Dutch National Ballet).
Just to give an idea of the movement vocabulary: fast pointework, elegant lines, high jumps and gymnastic lifts. The women appear to soar above their partners, in splits, like a swan or with their feet pointing skywards. The counterparts to this virtuosity are an intoxicatingly propelling composition by Szymon Brzóska for string orchestra and piano, and a moving installation of large beams and LED lamps, with which artist Eno Henze continually divides the space differently.
Shen Wei, introduced to the Netherlands by The Amsterdam Music Theatre, also created a Sacre in 2003, set to Stravinsky’s piano version. This time, he has used the orchestral version. Once again, you see his penchant for analysing music. Rather than a virgin dancing herself to death, as in Nijinsky’s original ballet, he presents a living organism, from which it is difficult for individuals to free themselves.
Shen Wei has come up with a wonderful idea. To Stravinsky’s insistent staccatos, all the feet shuffle quickly, arms held rather stiffly beside the bodies, in a clear reference to Wei’s Asian background and to Nijinsky. The dancers break free from this foundation, in lines and circles, in swarming fields, in a girl that sucks up the flute in her twirling arms, and in a boy who performs forward rolls like a Chinese acrobat. Although a little more spirituality and abandonment would not have gone amiss in the dancers, it is definitely an inspiring piece of choreography. (Mirjam van der Linden)
Het Parool, 19 June:
Shen Wei and David Dawson put dancers under pressure
Le Sacre du Printemps has been around a hundred years, and don’t we know it! Many a dance maker has been inspired this centenary by the masterpiece composed by Igor Stravinsky, with the gold standard set by Pina Bausch’s version in 1975.
Not everyone has followed the underlying idea of the music – the virgin sacrifice to spring – but since the very first ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, Sacre has always been a mass event. Solo variations are few and far between. The version by Shen Wei – which had its world premiere on Saturday – has possibly the biggest cast, with between twenty and thirty dancers making outflanking movements across the stage.
No virgins are sacrificed. Wei draws the music towards the present, and to everyday worries, pressure, stress and conflict. He plays with our expectations. Halfway through the performance, as the ominous music appears to demand a crazy dance routine from the choreographer, the dancers just stand still with their eyes shut, on a small island of calm in a hectic torrent.
There is also stress for the dancers in the brand-new Overture by David Dawson. The scenes and the dancers tumble breathlessly over one another, as if the choreographer has accidentally put the performance in fast forward. In one – very successful – duet, the dancers are even so rushed that they hardly have time to finish the dance. The choreography itself is equally challenging: both supple and stiff, and both straight and bent. It makes your muscles ache just watching the dancers. Fortunately, the atmospheric, cinematic music by Szymon Brzóska (also a world premiere) acts as a cooling salve. (Bregtje Schudel)
Mathematically precise ballets
David Dawson’s new ballet for the Dutch National Ballet, Overture, opens with four rows of four dancers on stage. Above them are four horizontal lines, divided into four long, austere, illuminated beams. This announces the main source of inspiration for Overture: the poem The four quartets by T.S. Eliot.
The order is followed consistently throughout the performance, in a spectacle of alternating taut and graceful lines, in which the dancers keep flowing into the next new variation. Although the twists in the structure are well-considered, they often take you by surprise, just like the white lines in the sky that gradually change shape. Imperceptibly, these lighting sculptures that hung in the sky at the outset approach the floor, so that at the end they take the places of the dancers one by one, in four rows of four. And so heaven and earth are bound together in Overture.
The symbiosis between movement and imagery in Overture is further enhanced by the music. In close collaboration with the choreographer, the Polish composer Szymon Brzóska created a composition for strings and piano. The piano notes can be hurried, agitated and fiery, while the dancers are propelled by the emotional dynamics. Although this music comes from a different era and contains a variety of influences, the other source of inspiration for Dawson and his artistic team – Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps – is clearly present here. T.S. Eliot ended The four quartets with the words ‘And the rose and the fire are one’. Dawson ends his ballet with an ardent embrace before the curtain falls. Overture has set the tone for the evening.
And whereas this production germinated from an extremely fruitful collaboration between choreographer, composer and set designer, the adaptation of a new Sacre was completely in the hands of all-rounder Shen Wei. He was responsible for the choreography and the set, costume and lighting designs, even though he kept everything relatively sober, apart from the dancing. The colours of the vague sky paintings on the back and side drops match the close-fitting greyish blue, purple, green and brown outfits.
Whereas Dawson bases his work on classical ballet technique and his dancers dance on pointe, Wei’s work has a totally different approach and concentration. With their eyes closed, a long line of dancers stand at the front of the stage, breathing deeply in and out. Throughout his Sacre, they regularly shuffle backwards softly. But then a dancer does a forward roll as if he has been catapulted through the air. And there are shoulders that twist around their joints in isolation, letting the energy flow through the body. Shen Wei has set a big challenge for his thirty dancers from the Dutch National Ballet – the biggest cast he has ever worked with.
It is also admirable how Shen Wei succeeds in conquering Stravinsky’s complex composition with his dance. At times, his Sacre, performed by Holland Symfonia in the original orchestration, appears to take off as the dancers stretch their arms straight up in the air like exclamation marks, while the musicians play sustained notes. And like Dawson, Wei also choreographs with mathematical precision. This makes the second part of the evening a great success as well. The Dutch National Ballet has presented an exceptionally good Holland Festival programme with these two contributions. (Marcelle Schots)
Cultureel Persbureau, 17 June 2013:
Shen Wei draws the Dutch National Ballet out of its comfort zone
For the Holland Festival, the Dutch National Ballet is presenting two world premieres: Overture by choreographer David Dawson and Sacre du Printemps by the New York-based choreographer/artist Shen Wei. The two ballets are monumental in scope.
The prologue to Overture swells with the sound of strings. And the stage is filled with a torrent of dancers who portray the ‘technological madness’ of our age with a string of ballet steps. There is no visible relationship between the dancers, as nowadays, according to the choreographer, we lack the ‘opportunity to communicate on a personal level’. In T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets, Dawson, who started off his choreographic career with the Dutch National Ballet, found the simplicity and tranquillity of earlier days. This is reflected in pastoral group dances, an emotional grand pas de deux for Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd, and a lonesome solo performed superbly by the talented Edo Wijnen.
Overture, which forms a prelude to Sacre, aims for a synergy between Szymon Brzóska’s music, Eno Henze’s scenery and Dawson’s choreography. This combination of disciplines is powerful, but the dance is expressed better when an important component of the scenery – the moving artwork of hanging beams – disappears. The cold stage lighting from above forms a striking contrast to the warm, cinematic music by Brzóska, and the dance thus gets stuck in between the self-imposed conditions of synergy. The dancers themselves, however, feel at home in Dawson’s ballet style and show off their technical tricks.
Breathing in Sacre du Printemps
After the interval comes a work by a man who draws the dancers out of this comfort zone: Shen Wei’s version of Sacre. In a big, ritualistic circle, thirty dancers slowly begin to move, surrounded by three large painted panels. The first notes of the yearning bassoon solo in Stravinsky’s masterpiece drive the dancers upwards one by one. Then they move around with quick little steps, gripping the floor with their heels. All sorts of dances follow: small solos, groups dancing separately from one another and round dances, in which choreographer Wei does not let himself be distracted by the legendary key moments in the music, either ignoring them or following them in surprising ways. The flow and dynamics of the music appeal more to Wei than stories of age-old sacrifices. For him, it is the quality of movement that counts. This becomes visible when dancers stand side by side just looking into the auditorium and focusing on their breathing during bombastic music.
In Sacre du Printemps, the synergy is in Shen Wei himself, as he also designed the sets, lighting and costumes. There are no sweating bodies, mad invocations, mythical poses or provoking controversies. It is rather that you undergo a salutary cultural experience. In London once, the punk choreographer Michael Clark created a wild Sacre for just one dancer with her upper body bared. Wei has no desire to grab his audience by the scruff of the neck, shake them up and release them onto the streets in bewilderment to go off and appreciate life again. He prefers a harmonious reconsideration.
‘In my work, I try to express breathing from the inside out and movement that surrounds us everywhere; from a bird in the countryside to music, just like Sacre.’
The successful choreographer listened to the orchestral version of Stravinsky’s revolutionary 1913 work for a year. The dancers of the Dutch National Ballet had considerably less time to master the completely new movement material. Erica Horwood succeeds single-handedly in lending character to Sacre. Of all the dancers, she is the only one on stage from start to finish, and is the one who best interprets Wei’s intentions. A solo version for her, too, would not come amiss. (Ruben Brugman)
NRC Handelsblad, 17 June 2013:
** (Sacre du Printemps)
Awkward Chinese mini-steps
“So we’ve been caught out again”, said trainer Herman Kuiphof in 1974, after the goal we knew was coming had been scored. We knew, because the opponent was Germany. Likewise the Chinese choreographer Shen Wei has been caught out – overwhelmed by Stravinsky, who has been beating dance artists now for a hundred years with his Sacre du Printemps.
Once again, Wei – who already created a Sacre in 2003 – walked straight into the trap of musical illustration. This time, too, he gives a visual counterpart to each musical event. In solos or groups, the dancers follow the various instrument groups, jumping up to the shrill notes of wind instruments in the pit and hopping along to the staccato phrases.
Apart from some remarkable choices, like the long sur place of the ensemble of thirty dancers and the increasingly awkward-looking Chinese mini-steps, this Sacre is predictable and already redundant before the last note has sounded. Which, incidentally, takes a while, as the tempo at which Stravinsky’s masterpiece is performed appears more suited to geriatric gym than any sort of heathen ritual.
In contrast, David Dawson’s Overture is bubbling with vitality. Eighteen wonderful dancers excel in grace, power, precision, suppleness and explosiveness. To insipid music by Szymon Brzóska, Dawson welds together group sections, solos and duets with precision into a driving maelstrom, which unfortunately never ceases in order to bring out nuances of mood. You are thus left with an image of hectic one-sidedness. (Francine van der Wiel)