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Jeanguy Saintus on a new Rite of Spring

For our first ever collaboration with our neighbours Phoenix Dance Theatre, Haitian-born choreographer Jeanguy Saintus makes his UK debut with a fresh imagining of the iconoclastic 1913 ballet. He tells us more about his brand new interpretation of a cornerstone of modernism.

“Following Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking and rousing premiere of The Rite of Spring for Parisian audiences in 1913, a great number of choreographers have tried their skills on the dance and story which centre a ritual drama. For me, new visions of the storyline by Pina Bausch and Angelin Preljocaj come to mind. It goes without saying that re-envisioning a masterwork comes with its shares of successes and failures, especially as choreographers had the flexibility of putting a contemporary spin not only on the story’s embodiment but also on its musical score.

Why another Rite of Spring in 2019 by a culturally diverse dance company like Phoenix in the United Kingdom? What can we bring to the stage as contemporary dance artists of African descent who feel deeply rooted in how we imagine diaspora? These are big questions, which animate our approach to the dance, and with which we wrestle with every step we create, dance and share with our spectators. One thing is for sure: Igor Stravinsky’s musical composition remains very contemporary, avant-garde, which somehow fosters a dialogue in 2019.

Vanessa Vince-Pang and Jeanguy Saintus rehearsing The Rite of Spring by Phoenix Dance Theatre, choreographed by Jeanguy Saintus © Jack Thomson

Originally, I was interested in the initiation spirit that animates the piece. Then, I told myself, instead of sacrificing a girl or a woman (a sexist proposition), why don’t we think of the ritual as call and response and a give and take between the realms of humans and the Invisibles (in Haitian Vodou, the intermediaries between the Supreme Creator and the world). Why don’t we (the dancers) make a “promise” as an offering? If renewal and revitalization come in the form of spring, and it turns out to be what we hoped for, if it brings the wellness and peace we deserve, and we will then give back a beautiful ceremony, and a spiritual and powerfully charged gathering. From my own cultural repertory, this is how exchanges occur with our Invisibles.

I’m always asked: what will be the focus of your work? Do you have the correct answer now? My answer is: How can I know? How can any artists, as they feel their way and rely on their creative intuition with every new artistic endeavour? I usually create in the moment with the artists involved in the piece. The more open, adept and inquisitive they are, the more I am…

Vanessa Vince-Pang, Carmen Vazquez Marfil and Natalie Alleston rehearsing The Rite of Spring by Phoenix Dance Theatre, choreographed by Jeanguy Saintus © Jack Thomson

I came to the studio with an open mind. I believe in the chemistry of the bodies in the room and specifically the positive energy around. I had ideas, suggestions and most importantly I wanted to share a very personal experience, a journey in a lakou (community vodou) in Haiti, with the dancers. A message they will convey later to the spectators. As a contemporary choreographer, I like to create my own story, I like to improvise, I enjoy exploring my artistic dreams with the other artists in the studio.

The Rite of Spring like all my creations is a team work. The experience with Phoenix dancers is a rewarding one, and I need to say that the dancers are a true inspiration. The real challenge was working on a piece which is already set: how do I bring Jeanguy’s belief into it? We did it and it’s coming along beautifully.”

Performed in a double bill with Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, The Rite of Spring opens in Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 16 February.

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