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Just a short time ago, Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart were approached by UNC Executive Director for the Arts Emil Kang to create commissioned works for Carolina Performing Arts’ ‘12-‘13 season. Bogart, who directs SITI Company, and Jones, who directs Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, fused their like-minded companies for this exploration of the 1912 ballet “The Rite of Spring”. Their collaboration, “A Rite,” which premiered at UNC Chapel-Hill’s Memorial Hall on January 26th, educated the audience about the history of “The Rite of Spring” while exploring themes of war, hope and scientific progress.

Anne Bogart. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz . No copyright infringement intended.

Anne Bogart. Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz . No copyright infringement intended.

Bill T. Jones. Photo credit: Stephanie Berger.

Bill T. Jones. Photo credit: Stephanie Berger.

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At the premiere, Dactors (Dancer/Actors) opened with what were perhaps their “Dances of Death” – choreographic phrases built under the notion that, if repeated long enough, they would result in death. This section was vigorous and featured strong, angular movement vocabulary. Jumps with flexed legs and feet and angular arms with jutting elbows hearkened to the 1912 ballet’s original choreography – its non-traditional use of flexed feet and turned-in knees and feet in particular. Dactors’ movements synched at several moments in a “thinker” pose of sorts; in a demi-squat, the performers quaked their knees and stared off into the same corner, one arm folded across the chest and the other in a fist clenched below the chin.

A Rite thinker pose

“Thinker pose.” Photo Credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

Following this dance segment, actor Will Bond delivered a monologue, introducing a structural back-and-forth between dance and theatre segments that continued throughout the show. A clear sufferer from PTSD, Bond’s character spoke with difficulty about his time in WWI and flinched when touched by other performers; his monologues evolved over the course of the performance from a mostly coherent investigation of patriotism, honor and sacrifice to an aggressive repetition of the phrase “Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat,” with a mimed machine gun in hand. At his breaking point, Bond’s character ‘killed’ the other dactors, stating, “It’s not my fault…They never told me that when you kill, you kill yourself,” reflecting the deep-seated remorse and bitterness that can develop post-war. Onstage performers supported Bond’s storyline throughout, building war-like images of soldiers marching early on, and later creating the image of soldiers fallen from battle.

Other spoken word in this performance referenced Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist, a text that the SITI Company began working with in their 2008 piece, “Who Do You Think You Are.”  Dactor Stephen Duff Webber’s character utilized this text to question space and time, in one moment asking why time progresses only forward as his fellow performers appeared to rewind their previously executed choreography.

"A Rite." Photo credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

“A Rite.” Photo credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

Another unique character in this work was the teacher, a character created to honor UNC’s Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor of Music, Severine Neff. Neff initially proposed that Carolina Performing Arts celebrate the centennial of “The Rite of Spring,” and her character, played by SITI Company’s Ellen Lauren, wove “A Rite” together through instruction-based monologues that often introduced or explained choreography. A monologue about the use of circles in the musical score, for example, drew attention to the female dancers’ flared skirts and the circular floor patterns and arm gestures in the accompanying choreography. Lauren’s lessons also explained the riotous audience response to the 1912 ballet, the structural composition of Stravinsky’s music, and some of the creative process behind Jones’ and Bogart’s collaboration.

Ellen Lauren as Professor Severine Neff.  Photo Credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

Ellen Lauren as Professor Severine Neff. Photo Credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

In perhaps the lowest point in the evening, dactors sat on stools lining the front of the stage, speaking to Lauren in a Q & A style interview. Lauren inquired about the performers’ knowledge of the audience and about why they chose to perform, and in response, the dactors engaged in shouting matches, disputing their conflicting opinions with heightened voices and combative body language. In this moment, just like at the 1912 ballet, people responded to the performance in a riotous fashion – but did this lesson really need to be spoon-fed to the audience in such a literal way?

I found this section compositionally grating because it didn’t feel genuine; the dactors lost their senses of cool without any real emotional buildup, and some integrated curse words into their responses in a way that felt gimmick-y. It is one thing to drop an F-bomb out of sheer anger and passion, and it is another thing to curse because that it implies anger and passion. Bogart and Jones know the difference between the two, so this oversight in the performance was disappointing.

"A Rite." Photo credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

“A Rite.” Photo credit: Carolina Performing Arts.

Another chaotic section, this time more expertly executed, followed another of Lauren’s lessons earlier in the show. In an explanation of musical structure, Lauren explained that in score of “The Rite of Spring”, the chords are vertical and the linear element is free. “This,” Lauren continued, “invokes the vision of the artist being set free in the chords.”  The dactors took their cue, developing big, joyous facial expressions and leaning back on their stools as Lauren continued to speak. The music dropped during more comedic parts of her monologue, letting the audience hear things like, “People like that, the whole Occupy Wall Street thing,” and “Don’t forget, this piece is all about sex.” Meanwhile, the performers became increasingly maniacal-looking and began crawling downstage, mouths agape, eyes bugged and crying from their overwhelming happiness. And here, Jones and Bogart made a comment about the public’s interpretation of artistic freedom without explicitly stating it.

Overall, “A Rite” succeeded in teaching about a significant moment in music and dance history, while also challenging the audience to consider its present-day implications. Bogart and Jones blurred the lines of theatre, dance and music to create a production that was as visually pleasing as it was intellectually stimulating. As the curtain dropped, I found myself hungry for more, my mind humming with new energy – and I think that says it all.

Click here to listen to Janet Wong (Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company Associate Artistic Director) and Anne Bogart talk a bit about their collaboration, and to learn more about CPA’s The Rite of Spring at 100 season.

Have you seen “A Rite” or any other version of “The Rite of Spring”? How was your experience alike or different? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

“A Rite” – Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company

Conceived, directed and choreographed by Anne Bogart, Bill T. Jones and Janet Wong in collaboration with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company

UNC Memorial Hall – Chapel Hill, NC

January 26, 2013

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