Le Sacre du printemps, Sadler’s Wells, London, review: This is the best staging of Le Sacre I know

English National Ballet's production of Pina Bausch's 'Le Sacre du Printemps' (The Rite of Spring) has been danced by only one other ballet company

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The Independent Culture

Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) is terrifying. Her choreography matches Stravinsky’s score with driven movement and pitiless social dynamics: scared teenaged girls, caught between ritual and the bare earth.

It’s a coup for English National Ballet to acquire this production, another sign of artistic director Tamara Rojo’s ambitions for the company. Created in 1975 for Bausch’s own dancers, this Sacre has been danced by only one other ballet company, the Paris Opéra. With its stark, powerful choreography and unnerving sense of dread, this is the best staging of Le Sacre I know. ENB, and particularly its women, dance the churning steps with whole-hearted belief.

Set designer Rolf Borzik covers the stage in a layer of soil (you can spend the interval watching the technical team pouring it out and raking it). As the members of this tribe prepare to sacrifice the chosen maiden, splashes of earth stain their clothes and bodies, the sweat of exhaustion turning it into mud.

The women stand in barefoot gaggles, or get swept up in the score’s rhythms, a machine made of vulnerable human bodies. Groupings turn in on themselves or explode outward. 

As they pass a red dress from hand to hand, each woman has to face the chance that it will mean her own death, reacting with panic or desperate resignation. When Francesca Velicu is chosen, she looks almost mad with horror, forced into motion by her own fear. Tiny and fragile, she dances her final solo with reckless, gasping force, pushing her body into collapse. 

Le Sacre is the finale to an evening of 20th-century choreography. William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is a sharp-edged deconstruction of classical ballet, its dancers erupting into extreme movement or strolling off. The throwaway arrogance doesn’t come naturally to ENB, but there are strong individual performances. James Streeter and Laurretta Summerscales find new reserves of attack in their final duet, while Precious Adams dances with big, bold scale.

Rojo leads the cast for Hans van Manen’s Adagio Hammerklavier, another new acquisition. Van Manen’s setting of Beethoven manages to be both heavy and glitzy. Dressed in gauzy white, the cast dance very slow pas de deux. The steps are full of muscular tension, with tight shoulders and a turgid quality that doesn’t match the music. Still, it’s danced with assurance, particularly by Summerscales and Fabian Reimair.

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