Collectivity, sacrifice in Rite of Spring interactive performance at Cairo D-CAF

Soha Elsirgany , Thursday 23 Mar 2017

Spanish artist Roger Bernat presented an interactive performance based on Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Pina Bausch's choreography

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The Rite of Spring interactive performance at D-CAF, led by Spanish artist Roger Bernat (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

D-CAF opened its sixth edition with The Rite of Spring, an interactive performance created by Spanish artist Roger Bernat, held on 17 and 18 March at Falaki Theatre.

The performance allowed over 60 participants to enact the 1975 choreography of renowned German choreographer Pina Bausch, to the music by Igor Stravinsky (1913).

Stravinsky's two-part piece is about pagan primitive rituals that celebrate the start of Spring. In the second part, the community chooses a sacrificial victim, who then dances herself to death.

When it debuted nearly 100 years ago, The Rite of Spring’s jarring sounds challenged the ordered harmonies and musical logic that had dominated traditional European music for many years. It is considered a pivotal work of modern music, and has had a tremendous impact on contemporary movements including jazz, minimalism, and even rock.

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The Rite of Spring interactive performance at D-CAF, led by Spanish artist Roger Bernat (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

A collectivity

At the heart of the piece is a celebration of spring and all it entails (growth, reproduction, etc.), but the element Spanish artist Roger Bernat chose to play with was the communal aspect.

“It is the story of a sacrifice, and for me it was interesting to work around a collectivity that decides to sacrifice one [of its members]. We all arrive here; no one knows who will be sacrificed, but at the end there is a dead body,” Bernat told Ahram Online.

Participants were led onto the stage and were each handed a set of headphones that gave them instructions for movements and played The Rite of Spring music.

They quickly discovered that the instructions were not the same for everyone, with participants organised into groups that performed different movements at various points in the performance.

“To work with this choreography was a way to think about what is a collectivity,” Bernat says.

Last year Bernat also joined D-CAF with another interactive performance titled Numax Fagor Plus.

“I like to do shows where the audience is part of the fiction, where there is no outside and inside. There is just fiction and you are part of this fiction. The idea to be ‘out’ of something does not exist to me. Even in theatre, if you are ‘out’ as audience, you are also ‘in’ and part of the experience,” he says.

Having no background in dance, Bernat chose to restage an existing choreography and looked to one of his favored choreographers, Pina Bausch.

Bausch's 1975 rendition of The Rite of Spring featured a red cloth as the only prop, on a stage spread with black soil.

The red cloth is present in Bernat’s project, but not the soil. The angle is also slightly different than Bausch’s interpretation, which is regarded as a forceful depiction that highlights the war of the sexes.

“There are many other choreographies of this piece, but this special one is a very violent one. Here that gender aspect disappears, but the violence between individuals is still there,” Bernat explains.

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The Rite of Spring interactive performance at D-CAF, led by Spanish artist Roger Bernat (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

Translating motion

The technical preparation for the interactive performance was like the making of a "reverse choreography."

“We were translating movement into words, the opposite of a choreographer’s work, who speaks the words and makes them into movements,” Bernat says.

While the performance unfolded organically - with no directorial interference and based on the group’s interpretation of the audio directions - some adjustments were made in real time by Bernat and his technical manager Txalo Toloz.

The dance, designed to last for 35 minutes with the music, stretched to nearly 50 minutes as the participants were not as fast as Bausch’s choreography.

Bernat explains “That’s why sometimes the music stops, to try to arrive at the same place.”

As is the nature of such interactive works, the result is new every time in ways that the director or creator of the experience cannot predict or adjust.

“Sometimes we fail. For example, when the audience is not believing in the fiction it doesn’t work well,” Bernat says.

On the first day of the performance, Bernat says the participants at Falaki Theatre gave a good show.

“For me it was amazing, because I think people were in the fiction. At the end, to do a show like this is a collective project. We understand that we are here to do something together, so we can decide to do it and do it well, or we can quit. I think today the audience very much wanted to do it well,” he said.

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The Rite of Spring interactive performance at D-CAF, led by Spanish artist Roger Bernat (Photo: Mostafa Abdel-Aty)

And indeed, even from within the stage this collective energy was palpable. There were points in the show when the participants were so involved in the fiction, it was difficult to tell if they were truly unprepared amateurs, or had rehearsed with Bernat beforehand to ensure the performance’s success.

This was especially visible in the final segment of the Sacrificial Dance, in which the participant performed unreservedly despite it being her first time on a stage, as she later informed Bernat.

“She was truly sacrificing herself for the others. She was giving us her feelings, just to have a beautiful show. Sometimes you don’t have this generosity,” Bernat says.

“For me that is the magic of the show. When suddenly you have over 60 persons doing something together, and giving shape to something as abstract as choreography. No one is experienced, or knows this choreography before. But it’s something we believe we can do, even if to do that means to have a 'dead body' on stage at the end.”

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The Rite of Spring interactive performance at D-CAF, led by Spanish artist Roger Bernat (Photo: Mostafa Abdel-Aty

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