'A Rite’: A fresh take on a classic

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 09:23 PM

Before the curtain rises on the world premiere of “A Rite” by choreographer Bill T. Jones and theater director Anne Bogart, Jones wants to make one thing clear: “We’re not doing the Stravinsky …‘Rite of Spring,’” Jones said in a recent interview.
Instead, they follow what Emil Kang, UNC’s Executive Director for the Arts, asked them to do: respond to the 100th anniversary of the seminal work. “We’re responding to our response,” Jones said. “I want people to come with fresh ears and fresh eyes.”
Their “A Rite” premiering Friday and Saturday at UNC’s Memorial Hall, features nine dancers from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and six actors from Bogart’s SITI Company.
This work is one of 15 major works commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts for its year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of  “The Rite of Spring’s” premiere performed by Ballet Russe to Igor Stravinsky’s score in Paris on May 29, 1913.
Characters in this new “Rite” – The Musicologist, The Physicist, The Walking Man and The Dreamer – embody what Jones and Bogart have learned and reflected on in order to understand the significance of that first “Rite” and its relevance today.
“Dissonance is important on every level – notes that don’t sound right and another dissonance – the social and emotional dissonance of our era,” Jones said in a telephone interview.  The idea of sacrifice also figures into their new work, he added.
The collaborators, including Jones’ associate artistic director Janet Wong, have turned the renowned 1913 work on its ear, sequence-wise, as well as made other changes to the use of  this music and other additions to their production that runs a little over an hour as opposed to the 33-minute length of Stravinsky’s score for Vaslov Nijinsky’s ballet.
That score begins with “The Augurs of Spring” and ends with a dance of death as a young virgin sacrifices herself to the god of spring.  This new “Rite” starts with the entire 16-member cast simultaneously performing their own choreographed dance of death to the point of exhaustion.  It ends with “The Augurs of Spring” in which the cast performs a vocal arrangement. The famous, over-the-top persistence of one chord (E-flat and F-flat played together) and repeated 59 times, Bogart said, appears in this section.
The dissonant, violent, pounding rhythms of “The Augurs of Spring,” could have contributed to the riot that ensued when this work premiered, especially since this music was unexpected following the opening “sweet, mellow horn sounds” of Stravinsky’s score, Bogart said in a telephone interview.
The entire score, with its complex metrical changes, dissonance and other unorthodox approaches, proved revolutionary at the time and redefined what music could be. It took some getting used to, however. On June 3, 1913, in “Le Temps,” Paris critic Pierre Lalo commented: “Never was the system and cult of the wrong note practiced with so much industry, zeal and fury.”
Yet perceptions changed and the music’s influence continues today, including in the Jones/Bogart work. From the beginning of this collaboration, Jones had insisted on “getting the music into our bones,” Bogart said. “This became a guiding principle.”
Performers listened repeatedly to the music, danced to it, created their own choreography and learned about it from UNC musicologist Severine Neff.
In an interview just a few hours into their collaboration, Jones and Bogart had spoken of  wanting to be changed as a result of working together, especially since they come from different art forms. Now, they say they have been altered.
Before, Bogart had been used to a more reflective, theoretical approach. “Bill is passionate, immediate, in the moment, instinctive … I’ve learned to be more immediate,” she said.
Jones has appreciated being with Bogart’s company well-read in history, philosophy and other subjects. “That has been very good for me. It’s made me a better listener as a director,” he said.
Dancers and actors had learning curves in order to create this new “Rite.” While Jones sometimes incorporates elements of theater into his work, his dancers were not accustomed to putting every movement into a context as in theater, Jones said.  But after receiving training in the Suzuki method of acting, which Bogart’s actors follow, the dancers learned about the importance of viewpoint, the choreographer added. So, during rehearsals, the dancers would be asked to move “as if” – such as “as if they were in a trench during WWI trenches and going into a charge,” Jones said.
Actors faced a challenge when it came to dance.  “I think it’s exhausting. They do dance some but this is at a high level. It’s Olympian,” Bogart said.

WHAT: The world premiere of “A Rite,” by Bill T. Jones, Janet Wong and Anne Bogart, performed by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and Saturday, Jan. 26
WHERE: Memorial Hall, UNC, Chapel Hill.
TICKETS: 919-843-3333 or www.carolinaperformingarts.org