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Dance review: The Rite of Spring & Petrushka Sadler’s Wells, London


Staged by Irish choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan for Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, The Rite of Spring suggests a late and shivery spring, rather like this year’s. Created in 2009 and revised for this revival, Keegan-Dolan’s Rite returns as part of the centenary celebrations for Stravinsky’s iconic ballet, which had its riotous first performance in 1913.

There will be new and old stagings of the score around the world. Sadler’s Wells is presenting A String of Rites, a series of productions of or inspired by the ballet. Keegan-Dolan’s Rite is paired with his new Petrushka, a setting of another Stravinsky score. Both are played as piano duets, brightly performed by Lidija and Sanja Bizjak.

The original ballet showed a tribe choosing a maiden who would dance herself to death. Keegan-Dolan suggests a modern, rural Irish world, with tweedy clothes and cups of tea, turning in on itself as it looks for sacrifices. Early on, the dancers pounce on one woman, strip her to her underwear, then move on.

Two older performers look like elders of the tribe. Olwen Fouéré pours tea from an old kettle, making it look like a ritual. Bill Lengfelder sits on a table as if enthroned. Yet they’re potential victims, too: the cast pounce on Lengfelder and hold him up, under threat. At one point a woman wears a big, detailed hare mask; the other dancers are masked as hunting dogs, though they do not attack. Men and women drop trousers or hitch up skirts to hump the floor.

Keegan-Dolan and his dancers create a distinctive world, with its falls of late snow and deadpan rituals. It’s still a stretch to fill Stravinsky’s music, or to match the violence of this astonishing score.

Petrushka looks like an offshoot of the same universe, with more snow and similar skipping steps. Keegan-Dolan doesn’t tell Stravinsky’s story of a tragic puppet, but there are echoes of the plot and characters. Fouéré might be the magician/puppet master; she sits perched at the top of a pole, watching the action. The dancers literally look up to her for approval.

One soloist launches herself at a wall, like the original puppet fighting out of his cell. At the end, to the music for Petrushka’s ghost, she climbs out of this world by a rope ladder. Would the echoes work if you don’t know the original? Keegan-Dolan may be having his cake and eating it.

He’s at his best in the crowd dances. Dressed in white, his dancers lope through skimming steps and swaying changes of direction, with juicy folk dips and turns to this music’s thrilling rhythms.

A String of Rites season continues until 8 June. Box office 0844 412 4300