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The Rite of Spring and Petrushka

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After flirting unnecessarily with gender equality by revising the production with six men and six women, Michael Keegan-Dolan has restored the male-heavy stage presence of the 2009 original. Given that the power of this identifiably Irish version resides in the tension between the sexes, it is far more compelling. With images of rural, violent machismo undone by the forces of Gaia, this operates on the cusp of myth and reality, as primal memory imposes its will on the present to upset the gender status quo.

The action is driven by a pagan priestess figure Bernadette Iglich who proffers poisoned cups of tea, turns men into dogs and women into hares, and generally wreaks havoc in which men couple with the earth and threaten the weakest among them with mob brutality.

The attempted gang rape of a young man who turns out to be a girl pushes the gender confusion a touch further, culminating in a sequence in which the men disrobe to put on dresses. There is a blood-powered, deep-seated tribalism in the sinewy alliance of stomping movement and the urgent throb of Stravinsky’s music, played magnificently by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the inspired baton of David Brophy.

Petrushka is, in contrast, a ballet blanche, with the priestess figure this time sitting on a platform high above the stage. From here, she conducts the happy-go-lucky dancers like celebrants in a pulsing pagan ceremony of joy; there is more than a hint of The Wicker Man in both pieces. A face smeared in white mud denotes transition from human to puppet, and soon, insidiously and imperceptibly, all the participants become white-faced puppets until Rachel Poirier’s Elected One ascends the rope ladder to Heaven. I think I may have arrived before her.

Neil Norman

  • Sadler’s Wells, London
  • April 11-12
  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan
  • Producer: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre
  • Cast includes: Milos Galko, Saju Hari, Bernadette Iglich, Zen Jefferson, Anna Kaszuba, Saku Koistinen, Louise Mochia, Ino Riga, Daniel Riley, Rachel Poirier, Mikel Murfi
  • Running time: 1hr 35mins

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The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.