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A Timeless Rite

Superlatives seem useless when making reference to Pina Bausch and her vast legacy. Words seem reductive. How to define the woman who was a genuine game changer in pushing the boundaries of dance theatre, whose iconoclastic approach sometimes left audiences—and some of her dancers alike—punch-drunk, and in tears? She often experienced walkouts, heckling, disgust from stunned crowds. She was once berated by The New Yorker critic Arlene Croce for deploying, as she saw it, the “pornography of pain,” and exploiting the women. Croce even found some of the work “misogynistic.” Harsh and a little myopic perhaps, but indeed, Bausch didn't shy away from depicting violence, sexual or otherwise, within her repertoire. Degradation, rape and humiliation were common themes for her.

Performance

“The Rite Of Spring” by Pina Bausch

Place

 Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, UK, August 17-19, 2023

Words

Lorna Irvine

“The Rite of Spring” by Pina Bausch, Edinburgh International Festival. Photograph by Maarten Vanden Abeele

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No taboo was off-limits. Love and sex were battlegrounds. Dancers moved as though they were being catapulted across the stage, crashed onto the ground, and into tables and chairs. Often, glamorous evening gowns and suits were covered in soil, sweat and dirt, dancers hurled themselves around, were poked and prodded at, screamed out loud, and went to psychologically uncomfortable places in their psyches to understand the truth of the choreography. She was completely revolutionary in her “neo-expressionist” approach; political, and defiantly unsentimental.

Now returning to the Edinburgh International Festival for 2023, programmed in her inaugural year as Artistic Director for the EIF from celebrated Scots musician Nicola Benedetti, “The Rite Of Spring” is partnered with the duet “common ground(s)” by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo. For her brutal, brilliant take on “The Rite Of Spring,” “Fruhlingsopfer,” which was created in 1975, Bausch asked the question of her, “How would you dance if you knew you were going to die?”

“The Rite of Spring” by Pina Bausch, Edinburgh International Festival. Photograph by Maarten Vanden Abeele

Featuring thirty four specially assembled dancers from fourteen African countries, the ensemble will be performing a brand new production of Bausch's original choreography, which first came to the Festival in 1978. The stage will be once again covered in earth, and the movements elegant, jagged, disturbing and challenging. A “victim” will be selected from the throng, presented with the blood red garment, and Igor Stravinsky's wild score will be complemented by thrashing bodies, pitched in battles of desire, hierarchy and sacrifice.

How then, do we regard one of Bausch's classic pieces in 2023, when culture wars make news headlines? What would Bausch herself have made of the divided modern Europe, and the rise of far-right politics, so enmeshed in the push back from the arts world? Dance flourishes most when it has something to respond to. Ghosts of war often stalk across the stage in her work, figures of deep-rooted trauma, wearing wounds, wearied by the trials of lived experience. “The Rite Of Spring” as performed by Nijinsky in 1913 caused riots. Bausch may not provoke to this degree, over a century later, as audiences become more used to provocation, but her power is undiminished, her lyrical movement vocabulary still disquieting. It sticks in your bones and is impossible to shake off, once experienced live. She still provides a discourse around dance methodology, and is not for everyone's taste, but rather, a more discerning viewer.

“The Rite of Spring” by Pina Bausch, Edinburgh International Festival. Photograph by Maarten Vanden Abeele

With recent cuts to the UK arts foremost in people's minds, and a passionate advocate for its importance in Benedetti, who wants this year's festival to be “relatable,” Pina Bausch's work perhaps takes on a special potency this year. She casts a long shadow, remaining as vital and relevant a force as ever. Her work is visceral and timeless, fourteen years after her passing.

Lorna Irvine


Based in Glasgow, Lorna was delightfully corrupted by the work of Michael Clark in her early teens, and has never looked back. Passionate about dance, music, and theatre she writes regularly for the List, Across the Arts and Exeunt. She also wrote on dance, drama and whatever particular obsession she had that week for the Shimmy, the Skinny and TLG and has contributed to Mslexia, TYCI and the Vile Blog.

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