SEE BELOW FOR SPECIAL SNEAK PEEK REHEARSAL VIDEO LINK !
by Julie Gervais
The 19th Annual Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival will present two fully staged performances of Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet, The Rite of Spring, on June 16 & 17. Laurie Eisenhower, Artistic Director of Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, squeezed in a few minutes with Dancepanorama to tell us about it!
dp: You said that this music has been on your mind for a very long time. When did you know that now would be the time to finally choreograph to it, and how long have you been working on it?
LE: I’ve been listening to Stravinsky’s music over the years, since I started choreographing, and this piece is pretty powerful. I was in NY when the Joffrey revived it and learned a lot about it at that time.
Joffrey Ballet/Rite of Spring
They were reviving the original work and I don’t think there’s any film available, but I think Nijinsky’s sister was alive then, and they were working with notes, and trying to reconstruct it. They worked on it for a couple of years. I also saw Pina Bausch’s version, Martha Graham’s, Paul Taylor’s…but I always liked the music and felt like if I took it on at a very young age that people might feel it was a little arrogant. So I decided to wait a bit. It’s a complex piece of music: mixed meter, and then the meter changes all the time. It’s a difficult piece for dancers to count. I spent over forty hours coming up with my own ‘score’, what I call my ‘dancers’ score’, so we had something to work with. But I had always wanted to tackle the piece; I had an idea for it probably ten years ago and was just waiting for things to kind of come together in order to take it on. Of course I wish I had another two or three weeks, now! But there’s never enough time, and I’m excited about what we have.
dp: After spending so much time with this music, can you say why it might be that something so poorly received at first has become so cherished and exalted?
LE: Well, of course it wasn’t just the music that people had a problem with. The dance was very turned in, very radical and against the ballet tradition. And the subject matter was controversial. And the music is very percussive, and rhythmic in a very odd way.
From a reconstruction of Nijinsky's 'Rite'
So you put all those things together, and people started booing, and it just got out of control. So I can understand the history of that. But the music appeals to me because of the driving force that it has, the percussiveness, the wide range of dynamics. I find all those things very exciting, and I like how it’s complex and has so many shadings. Often these days, I think choreographers are picking music that has a regular 4/4 meter, and it’s easy to have only one dynamic in a piece like that. So it’s nice to work with music that has all sorts of dynamics; it helps inspire the choreography. –> SNEAK PEEK! ‘Rite of Spring’ Rehearsal
dp: The piece has a long lineage. There are iconic movements, poses and shapes that are strongly associated with it. Do these resonate with you while you work?
LE: Well, except for the Paul Taylor version, the other versions I’ve seen have all taken on the original scenario, that of the sacrificial virgin.
Pina Bausch Version
I’ve not done that so it’s been easier to stray from the originals. Also, for the last ten years I’ve purposely not been watching any of the original versions. I didn’t want any of their images in my brain. I think that when you watch other dances, sometimes that choreography can come out subconsciously and I try to avoid that as much as I can.
dp: You have chosen to forge your own path with the storyline, forgoing the tale of maiden ritual sacrifice and instead using a theme of human discovery and innovation. Can you say what led you to this? Were there specific images that the music conjured, and do you depict any of these ideas in a literal way on the stage?
LE: Well, I actually choreographed a dance in 1999 called ‘Rites and Passages’. Many years before that, a choreography teacher had told me that you couldn’t choreograph a dance about the history of the world. And I thought, ‘Well why not?’ So, I did! But I was a younger choreographer at that time, and I liked the concept but later on, felt like I didn’t completely realize it, and I always wanted to go back to it. And then, listening to the ‘Rite of Spring’ music, I thought that I could merge that idea with this music. So it all made sense to evolve those ideas through this music.
dp: And do you think that the teacher was saying that it’s just too broad of a concept?
LE: Yes, and I understood what she was saying, but I think how you approach things is what matters. In a way, I am dealing with the whole history of the world but specifically, with the idea of change – things have transformed our society and how conflicts arise with change.
dp: How many dancers are you working with, and is there more solo/partnering work or more corps work or is it kind of a balance?
LE: There are 10 dancers, and they are mostly working as one tribe. There are some solos and duets. Originally I had wanted 20 dancers but I decided to narrow it down and I’m glad I did. The 10 dancers really fill up the stage and 20 would have been crowded, so I think it worked out well. And we have a set design, and there’s all sorts of props, so there logistical craziness but I think it will be exciting when it all comes together.
dp: Can you name just a few of the things you are most excited about, for this premiere, maybe things that you want to tell the audience to look out for?
LE: Well, for one the music is going to be really incredible. The Pridonoffs, Elisabeth and Eugene, are going to be performing the music with some percussionists, and that will be amazing. I have so many collaborators on this project and I’d like the audience to notice their work too – costumes designed by Monika Essen and executed by Shari Bennett. My lighting designer is Kerro Knox 3 and set design is by Jeremy Barnett. In terms of the choreography, I like the work to speak for itself. I know some people tend to focus on the technique of the dancers, others on the figuring out the story. This is being performed at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, so a lot of the audience will be chamber music fans. Overall, I’m just excited for that moment when an audience sees a piece for the first time. It’s one of the thrills of being a choreographer!
Tickets to see The Rite of Spring on Saturday, June 16 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Seligman Performing Arts Center are $40 and $10 for students (25 and under). Tickets are $5 more at the door. Subscription packages are available. For more information, call 248-559-2095 or visit www.greatlakeschambermusic.org.