This year sees the 100th anniversary of the ballet that was considered so avant-garde by the audience at its premiere in 1913, that it provoked a near-riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29 of that year. On February 26, San Francisco Ballet presents the world premiere of its own production of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) as interpreted by Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov.
The ballet - depicting the pagan ritual of human sacrifice as practised in ancient Russia - was originally choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and despite its initial reception, the work was subsequently seen as a defining moment in cultural history, the point at which modernism took over from the romantic period. Stravinsky’s score, although based on folk melodies, was considered one of the most revolutionary pieces of its time, but subsequently became one of the most influential works of the 20th century, and widely performed as a concert piece.
Yuri Possokhov has endeavored to remove his interpretation of the ballet from the many that have gone before, although he admits: “A couple you can’t escape from, especially the first version”, which was his introduction to the work. “It was very shocking inspiration; I loved it so much,” he says. “I was thriving on the [kind of] ballet I never saw; strange, with strange music.”
He acknowledges the “ugliness” in the ballet, which he says is in the people, however he also wants to show how both beauty and ugliness coexist, so as a counterbalance, his setting is dominated by birch trees, which he describes as “one of the prettiest things in my life” - to symbolize beauty.
This program features two other works - Beaux by Mark Morris, and Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places.
Beaux, which was given its world premiere during the 2012 Repertory Season, is set to music by Bohuslav Martinů, which he composed for the revival harpsichord, an instrument described by Morris as “big, clunky, wonderful, and underappreciated”. The sound, he says, is louder and more aggressive than that of a traditional harpsichord ..... "I think it’s fabulous.”
Morris’ ballet, with costumes by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, is for male dancers only. “I wanted to make up a dance with all the gentlemen that is not just about what men are compelled to do in the ballet industry,” he says .... “I want a wider range of dancing than I often see in the ballet language.” The men of the San Francisco Ballet are, he says “wonderful and energetic and surprising, and I like to make that part of the dance.”
The final work on the program, Guide to Strange Places, was Ashley Page’s first creation for San Francisco Ballet. His inspiration for the ballet was the music of Bay Area composer, John Adams, whose Guide to Strange Places “was one of the first things to pop into my head,” he says. “I felt it was the right piece for this company, certainly for my first time working with them." Adams’ music was in turn inspired by a book - Guide noir de la Provence mystérieuse (A Black Guide to Mysterious Provence) - which he found in a farmhouse whilst there. He says that one of the chapters was dedicated to paysages insolites - or ‘strange places’- and “it set my imagination off .....”.
Page’s ballet takes the form of a series of duets within an ensemble piece, each duet, he says, having been influenced by both the music and the dancers. Part of his choreographic process, he explains, is “responding to those people and choosing the right piece of music to go with what I want to get out of them.”
San Francisco Ballet performs The Rite of Spring, Beaux and Guide to Strange Places at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, from February 26 to March 10.
To see excerpts from Beaux and Guide to Strange Places, and comments from Ashley Page, follow this link. On this page you'll also find further information on performance dates and times, and on buying tickets.