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Shree and The Rite of Spring

Seeta Patel

Seeta Patel Dance

The Lowry, Salford

November 21, 2023: 1 hr 35 mins

Seeta Patle Dance in The Rite of Spring. cr Foteini Christofilopoulou
Serenity and symmetry: Seeta Patle Dance in The Rite of Spring. All pics: Foteini Christofilopoulou
Image showing a three star rating

A lot of choreographers seem to want to create their own Rite of Spring just now. At The Lowry, we saw Dada Masilo’s African take on the story (with completely new music) back in June, and it’s not that long since Opera North brought Phoenix Dance Theatre here with a contemporary dance interpretation of the original Stravinsky score (played live with the appropriately monster-sized orchestra).

Seeta Patel and her company use the original score, but in recorded form, from a collaboration with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. When Arts Council England throws money at you, even a small dance outfit can have a full live orchestra for a couple of tour performances of this kind – only not, it seems, in the North of England. For Salford, it has to be recorded music (not much levelling up here, then).

Patel compensated for this – and the fact that in the other shows the orchestra has its own short programme in addition - by offering a solo work for herself, with live classical Indian music played on stage first. Called Shree, it showed her trademark Bharatanatyam style, from Tamil Nadu, in its more widely recognised one-dancer format. The idea was to take us on “the journey of Mother Earth from birth to destruction”, as a prelude to the deliverance of the Earth theme which she takes as the primary narrative of The Rite.

With the excellent skills of vocalist Samyukta Ranganathan, percussionist Prathap Ramachandran and flautist Vijay Venkat, this was a thoughtful 20 minutes of immersion in a living tradition, with its characteristic growth from simplicity to elaboration – and a demonstration of the pure form of Bharatanatyam, often almost bird-like in its movements.

The Rite of Spring, though, as re-thought by Seeta Patel, is more a sort of fusion. The basics of Bharatanatyam are used in ensemble dance, using many of the features of Western ballet’s formats for that genre – only with a great deal more symmetry in the deployment of bodies on the stage, which blends well with the Indian tradition; and adding an element of narrative storytelling, which probably doesn’t.

Bharatanatyam is known for its capacity to project narrative, but not, I guess, in the detailed event-by-event way that is often essential to classical ballet – the soil from which Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s essay in primevalism grew. The score is made up of numbers, each with its own scenario, and though you can take them simply as musical wallpaper for patterns and tableaux, there is a disconnection between the charm and peacefulness of the Indian style and the irregularities and violence of the soundtrack, no matter how often the more jagged gestures are synchronized with the music’s outbursts.

The original was meant to shock, and this more harmonious and philosophical re-interpretation by Seeta Patel (including the variation on the story, so that the original barbarously unpitied sacrificial victim becomes transformed into a goddess to whom the community itself offers sacrifice) seems at variance with that.

The dancing is highly accomplished, though, and there’s a serenity amid the pastel colouring of the design (Warren Letton) and costumes which is appealing. With the sound turned off, it could have been almost equally richly evocative.

More info here


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