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Yang Liping: Rite of Spring review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘visually striking but lacking in depth’

Yang Liping: Rite of Spring at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Li Yijan
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A mound of gold Chinese characters spills out across the stage. A Buddhist monk searches through them, focused intently on his task, selecting and gathering.

Yang Liping’s staging of the Rite of Spring takes its inspiration from traditional Tibetan culture. The costumes are richly coloured. There are tall, conical headdresses and trousers that fan out like peacock tails. In the background, a vast, metallic bowl periodically rises and lowers, creating a bridge between the traditional and the modern.

This collage-like aesthetic is one of the work’s biggest problems – ideas emerge only to fade into blackness. They remain unrealised, reliant on the piece’s visual design to hold them together.

When the strains of Stravinsky’s score finally seep into the work, there’s a brief moment of clarity. The dancers gather together to form a many-limbed deity, standing in a line with their arms gently rippling as their fingers, extended with long florescent nails, move searchingly through the air.

Liping seems to be reaching for something beyond the earthiness of Stravinsky’s Rite. Yet, in doing so, she sacrifices the raw, compulsive power that repeatedly draws choreographers to this piece.

There’s a sense of desire and yearning, but it feels a bit contrived. As visually striking as this piece is, it never coheres, remaining a confused and confusing collision of ideas. A scattered piece in which we must seek our own meaning.

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Visually striking staging of Stravinksy aims for the epic but lacks depth