The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky’s unorthodox ballet with violent, adventurous melodies, visceral textures and dissonance, completed in 1913, is being combined with thunderous and frenetic Japanese butoh dance, melodrama, comedy and dream imagery, for the new production, The Rite of Spring, etc.
The new dance/theater piece, which was written, choreographed and directed by Michael Sakamoto, is scheduled to be performed at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, until February 13th, at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $15, except for the Friday, February 4th, performance, which is $12.
The creation of Stravinsky’s original work, The Rite of Spring, was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. It premiered on May 29, 1913 in Paris, where loud arguments and a near-riot ensued over the merits of the harsh and shocking sound of the piece.
The overall scenario dealt with pagan sacrifice and Earth rituals. The music was filled with dissonance, constantly jerking time signatures and unpredictable accents.
The original arrangement written by Stravinsky was intended for two pianists dualing on a single piano. An orchestral arrangement was eventually written and it was used in Walt Disney’s animated movie Fantasia, made in 1941.
For his new theatrical piece, rather than the orchestral version, Sakamoto uses a recorded piano version made by Benjamin Frith and Peter Hill and released in 1995 on Naxos Records.
“I prefer the piano version of The Rite of Spring,” says Sakamoto. “It brings it down to a more human version, but still retains the grand emotions the piece is known for.”
Although Stravinsky’s work was a far more radical stretch than what the ballet world had previously been accustomed to, Sakamoto decided to ax ballet completely from his piece.
“I’m not much of a ballet fan, and it’s certainly not my expertise,” says Sakamoto.
As a choreographer, Sakamoto specializes in butoh and modern dance forms.
“The type of dance I do is sort of anti-ballet,” Sakamoto says. “Whereas ballet is a dance form that is orderly, symmetrical and has a very high center of gravity, my style is chaotic, asymmetrical and usually has a low center of gravity. I would say it’s more primal and in touch with the chaotic elements of nature.”
Sakamoto believes that the visceral form of butoh dance is the best fit to accompany Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
But The Rite of Spring, etc. is not simply a shift in dance forms.
The production includes a new abstract storyline with comedy, minimalist imagery, historical depth and social commentary.
The piece includes four character archetypes — an actor, a monk, a clown and a free spirit, all attempting to overcome personal baggage in their lives, says Sakamoto, who plays the monk.
“I see aspects of these types of characters in all of us,” he says. “The monk represents ideals and trying to do the right thing; the actor represents being in control and trying to manipulate your surroundings; the clown represents trying to please everyone and make people laugh; and the free spirit represents our desire to be liberated from things in life that shackle us.”
“Because of the way society works, we all accumulate different types of baggage,” he says.
In The Rite of Spring, etc., the characters open up to the world and become vulnerable.
“It’s a very scary and dark thing, but in the long run it’s very healthy when the characters break down and face reality,” says Sakamoto.
The comedic elements of the work include a satirical “shrink scene” in which the monk acts as the psychologist to the other characters.
A melodramatic and ironic suicide scene gives Stravinsky a break, as it is scored by Amy Mann’s cheery pop tune, “Save Me.”
Stravinsky’s style of composition was heavily based on dissonance, but can a dance form employ the same sort of dissonance that music can?
“I think we do employ physically dissonant movements — movements that appear out of balance — and then find their way back,” says Sakamoto. “Every day, old cells die and new cells grow in our bodies.
“There is the continual chaos of life, death and rebirth, and I think this can be expressed through dance and theater.”
Of all the alterations Sakamoto made to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, one thing left firmly intact is the concept of man struggling to deal with the forces of nature both outside and within himself.
Sakamoto is program coordinator at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, but this production is the inaugural of the new nonprofit theater company, Empire of Teeth, started by Sakamoto and his theatrical partner Rochelle Fabb.
Along with solo and ensemble works, Empire of Teeth is planning residencies, cultural outings for the disabled and theater workshops, says Sakamoto.
Other actors in The Rite of Spring, etc. include Suzan Averitt, who received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for her theatrical production of religious street literature; Francesco Mazzini, an Italian-born film actor who has starred in movies in both Italy and the United States; and Nurit Siegel, a Los Angeles-based choreographer, director, dancer and actress.
Information, (310) 315-1459.