MICHAEL Keegan-Dolan's Rite of Spring is eminently worthy of the most unsettling dance score in history. The Fabulous Beast founder and choreographer sees nature at its most primal, red in tooth and claw, but also understands the self-healing power of a community. This is a wondrous work.
As snow falls on barren ground, roughly attired men and women sit primly and formally in a row. They are country folk, people of no special standing or distinction, clutching cardboard boxes in the manner of refugees waiting obediently for their orders. Soon, under the controlling eye of a witchy long-haired woman (Bernadette Iglich), they will shed inhibitions and clothes and let repressed urges well up.
They drop their pants and hump the cold ground as if trying to fertilise it; they grab a woman from the group to harry, threaten and then dismiss; the group will also turn on an old man (Bill Lengfelder) who so far has been a passive observer. Dogs-head masks are a link with ancient cultures but also a reference to the rural life Keegan-Dolan so acutely observes. And of course the group dances, in fierce stamps, jumps and circles as sisters Lidija and Sanja Bizjak play ravishingly, on one piano, Stravinsky's version of his score for four hands.
It's 100 years since Nijinsky's ballet to Stravinsky's music made its noisy entrance into the world and during that century there have been more than 100 other dance versions. Few have the staying power of the score, and Keegan-Dolan's version deserves to be one of the keepers. He has a great gift for creating a community with all its quirks, secrets, anxieties, history and connections. It is deeply affecting to see his Rite end in an unusual way that honours the society he depicts and its ability to renew. The Chosen Maiden (Anna Kaszuba), is full of passion, strength and resolve, wearing her white undies as proudly as a priestess's robes.
Petrushka, which follows, is a more abstract piece that touches on - if one has knowledge of them - key characters and moments in the original libretto. It's possible to discern the anguished puppet, the empty-headed ballerina and the boastful moor, although the roles shift around the 10 dancers. Again Iglich is a controlling figure, this time sitting very high up on a pedestal offering judgment on various relationships. Lengfelder again observes, taking part only right at the end, but he and Iglich are potent reminders of Keegan-Dolan's idea of community, in which there are people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colours.
Petrushka takes place in a white box and the dancers wear all white. Colour comes from the score, again played in a four-hand version by the Bizjak sisters. There is a disconnect between the evocation of the fairground in Stravinsky's music and designer Rae Smith's empty space, although I found it a stimulating one, needing to keep two lines of thought going simultaneously.
There's only one line of thought about the ending, however. It is dramatic, theatrical, inspiring and absolutely in tune with the story of Petrushka. It's a superb evening.
Deborah Jones, The Australian