(Originally posted in 2013)
I've spent the last few weeks studying Act I of the Nijinsky choreography to Le Sacre du Printemps, this on the heels of coming away wholly disappointed in the Sacrificial Danse performed by the Joffrey in March. The Sacrificial Danse - have I been too fixated on that? It is, after all, the pinnacle, the reason for the story, the purpose of the ballet but how often do we miss the forest for the trees?
You MUST see it live to appreciate it. Nijinsky had 4 - 6 different groups performing 4 - 8 different things at the same time. This is choreography on par with Mozart's absence of recitative in the Marriage of Figaro. I never realized it until watching from the 3rd row. A wide angle shot peppered with close-ups does not do it justice. But somewhere between 1987 - when the Joffrey debuted the Nijinsky work with no blueprint, nothing to study and only the concept of The Rite and the importance of the music- and 2008 when the Mariinsky released the DVD, the only commercially available version of Le Sacre, something happened. What was a full engagement, a risk and a breaking of ground by the Joffrey became nothing more than steps done to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by The Mariinsky.
The Joffrey had to rely entirely on its comprehension of the story and Stravinsky's music which requires - no demands - the release of everything one knows musically to make space for the Rite. And they did just that. Start at minute 3:05 and watch how the men's steps, accenting the music, seem to be part of the orchestra as if they are bodily instruments. They are not doing steps to music - the music is creating steps in them. Go to minute 4:57 and watch how the girls in red enter the stage as if fully involved in a pagan rite, as if there is no music at all, then bend their bodies in sudden collusion with the music.There is a full understanding here.
Years and many performances later, watch the Mariinsky do the same thing at minute .37 then at minute 1:36. They are doing steps, they are counting, they are waiting to do the next step, are entirely outside of the music and have reduced Nijinsky's masterpiece to a paint-by-number effort. They do not at any point engage. Do you see it?
Giving them a Mulligan by saying the commonness of the constant performance may have dulled them is absolutely wrong and here is why: when I saw the Joffrey in March...they performed with the same intuition for the music that they did in 1987! Act One was fully thought out by Nijinsky and was designed to embrace Stravinsky's oddities. You can not possibly see it for what it is until you see it live. And The Joffrey owns it.
The Mariinsky's lack of interpretation, absence of engagement with the music reinforces my claim that this company and perhaps Russian dancers on the whole have no ability to connect. They accept instruction and execute as told and that...that will never due with Le Sacre du Printemps.