She moves to the soft rhythms issuing from a three-man band huddled downstage to our right. And just as slowly a singer emerges from the wings to join the musicians.
The woman is South African dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo, and this opening section of her latest piece, The Sacrifice, prefigures the final ritual of death.
Experienced at adapting Western classics to the culture of her native South Africa, over the years Dada Masilo has turned her attention to the likes of Swan Lake and Giselle, the latter a particularly felicitous adaptation.
Now, Masilo takes inspiration from The Rite of Spring, specifically Pina Bausch’s 1975 choreography for Stravinsky’s work.
Stravinsky’s musical depiction of the violent eruption of spring in his native Russia and the ancestral rites associated with it, including human sacrifice, has proved catnip to choreographers since its controversial premiere in 1913 Paris.
Part of the attraction of Stravinsky’s score are his unusual, jagged rhythms, and Bausch’s The Rite of Spring uses them more effectively than anyone else before or since.
Masilo confesses herself ‘a great fan of rhythms that are challenging’, and The Sacrifice is the result of her combination of Stravinsky’s rhythms, as interpreted by Pina Bausch, with the Tswana rhythms unique to Botswana.
She doesn’t use Stravinsky’s score, opting rather for a specially commissioned score composed and interpreted by a quartet of African musicians: Leroy Mapholo, Mpho Mothiba, Nathi Shongwe and the truly extraordinary singer Ann Masina.
The Sacrifice follows The Rite of Spring’s original structure: it’s divided into two parts, the first when, along with her company of 10 excellent dancers costumed in subdued colours (David Hutt), she establishes a community; and the second, in which the ritual sacrifice takes place.
Where her reading differs radically from the original is in the deliberate absence of a sense of dread; rather this sacrifice is presented as a cleansing ritual that brings peace and renewal to the community.
The first part is joyous, the lively ensemble choreography building on the earthbound rhythms of Tswana dance, with some clapping and vocalisation.
In the second part the lighting (Suzette Le Sueur) is dimmed. Masilo, now in her original white costume, is offered an arum lily, the symbol of her sacrifice. Accompanying her slow dance of death is a haunting, shivers-down-the-spine lament sung by Ann Masina, who gently lays her body to rest, before the whole company, now also in identical white costumes, bow before her in a gesture of communal gratitude.
As in Masilo's Giselle, the narrative in The Sacrifice is not always entirely clear, so that its emotional impact is slightly stunted; but this is nevertheless, an original and enjoyable work, performed by a company of exceptional dancers and musicians.
|What||Dada Masilo's The Sacrifice review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
24 Feb 23 – 25 Feb 23, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 5 mins no interval
|Price||£15-£45 (+ booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|