Renowned German dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests brings with them to Sadler’s Wells this week a triple bill of work, taken from the company’s vast repertoire. Having worked with more than 300 artists to date since Waltz founded the company with Jochen Sandig in 1993, there is a large catalogue of work to choose from. This evening of three selected pieces couldn’t be more diverse, yet all are set to classical scores from renowned composers such as Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky.
The evening begins with L’apres-midi d’un faune, set to Debussy’s composition of the same name. Initially, this is reminiscent of the conventional picture one would paint of a contemporary dance piece: abstract, block colour set – designed by Waltz herself – with dancers all costumed in varying skin tight lycra leotards. However, Waltz’s choreographic style of undulating torsos and slow, subtle movements, shows the intricate skill of her dancers and creates a mesmerising scene. Particularly skilfully crafted is the seductive trio-turned-duet that occurs right towards the front of the stage. It is absolutely entrancing, with flirtatious exchanges in movement between the dancers, but sadly distracts from explosive exchanges between the other dancers that make the stage alive with bursts of colour.
The second piece, Scène D’Amour, is classical in its choreographic style, in stark contrast to L’apres-midi d’un faun. Inspired by the story told by composer Hector Berlioz’s accompanying Roméo et Juliette, this is clearly choreographed in a more conventional narrative style usually associated with classical ballet, including mime-esque movements to accompany the storytelling tone of the piece. Waltz’s choreography is passionate with its swirling flurry of lifts and tender moments of contact between the male and female dancer throughout. A particular highlight is when the female dancer lifts the male, signalling a definite contrast from ballet clichés despite a heavily classical style of movement in comparison to the first piece. It is a shame that moments like this are not seen more throughout the piece, as it is a definite high point.
The last piece in the triple bill, and arguably the main attraction of the evening, is Sacre, Waltz’s own imagining of The Rite of Spring set to Stravinsky’s infamous musical masterpiece based on the rituals of Pagan Russia. First premiered in 1913 and causing a scandal in Paris with its unconventional musical composition, Waltz’s choreographic interpretation is not short of its own bold statement.
With a whopping 28 dancers on stage in parts, this frenzied crescendo of patterns and movement could not have been set to anything other than Stravinsky’s manic score. The ritualistic elements, as in the original Ballet Russes piece, are not lost in Waltz’s interpretation. Dancers move in menacing packs across a stage, which is simply dressed to great effect and allows the raw emotion of the choreography to fill the space.
It builds atmospherically, with the movements of the dancers conjuring a momentum that doesn’t cease until the inevitable ritualistic sacrifice towards the end. This is bold in its creation, featuring a manically emotive solo from a dancer completely unclothed, showing the vulnerability of her sacrificial situation to both the menace of the other dancers and indeed the audience looking on.
This evening of work by Waltz is a fantastic look at the vast breadth of work the company have produced; all pieces were received well by the audience, but it was Sacre that stole the evening, with standing ovations as the curtain fell. It is a bold reimagining of a famous piece of dance, which keeps its controversial essence but is retold to grand effect by Waltz and a stunning cast of athletic dancers.
Sasha Waltz & Guests – Sacre is playing at Sadler’s Wells until 13 November. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells website.