Yang Liping’s Rite of Spring (Peacock Contemporary Dance Company)
QPAC, The Playhouse
September 25 – 28
Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” ballet and orchestral concert work is an intense depiction of the fertility rights and rituals of his native Russia’s indigenous tribes in celebration of Spring. Now China’s superstar choreographer and dancer Yang Liping presents her own take on the defining work in her secondary contemporary dance piece.
There is a clear Asian aesthetic to the extravagant visual dance work beginning from the meditative first of its three sections, with the show taking its inspiration from traditional Tibetan culture; as audience members enter the Playhouse Theatre, the stage is set with female dancers statued deep in prayer as deities in meditation while a lone Monk labours hundreds of golden Chinese characters around the stage. In the background, an immense metallic bowl looms, rising after a gong to create a stunning silhouette of the dancers thanks to Fabiana Piccioli’s exquisite lighting design. Its patient pacing enlivens as movement begins with the dancers emerging from position through precise arm and finger based movement with impressive synchronicity of the smallest of finger clicks. In contrast to quiet tranquillity, a dynamic soundscape signals the entrance of a giant, brave hairy Chinese Lion, navigated by Da Zhu (Fenwei Zhu) who meets a beautiful girl with flowing hair Maya Don (Jian Dong). Together they contort around each other provocatively in expression of the fertility rites associated with spring.
This slow-burn physicality is followed by frenzied movement as the female cast assume a long line with their feet in fixed stirrups, allowing them to shift their weight forward and back at astonishing angles in undulating waves. This visually striking choreography is a genuine highlight, not only due to its rhythmic energy but its pulse to the music, which comes, in Parts I and III, courtesy of a new musical score from Chinese composer He Xuntian, influenced by traditional Tibetan music. When things move again to a solo it is that of the sacrificial victim, having Chinese characters attached to her by the ceremonial master as she is offered before a final floating purified reincarnation.
Through the work’s distinct sections, the skill the Yang Liping’s dancers bring to the work is astounding. The principals are compelling in their lithe execution of the demanding choreography of detailed and intricate movements. Indeed, Yang Liping’s redefinition “The Rite of Spring” from the perspectives of Eastern aesthetics and philosophy is a stunning spectacle of innovative artistry in its meld of dance, music, lighting and design into a visually exciting piece of dance theatre of the calibre expected at an international event such as the Brisbane Festival. Even if you don’t know exactly what is happening on stage all the time, you know that what you are experiencing is good, very good. Just try and secure a seat in the centre of the stalls so as to enjoy the best view of the lion’s share of the action (#punintended).