Haitian-born choreographer Jeanguy Saintus’ radical take on The Rite of Spring, our celebrated co-production with Phoenix Dance Theatre, will be available to watch for free via the OperaVision platform from 23 July 2021.
Commissioned for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, Stravinsky’s revolutionary score famously provoked a near-riot at its 1913 premiere, and is now widely regarded as the most influential piece of music of the 20th Century.
Our first collaboration with our Leeds neighbours Phoenix, this 2019 production is a very personal adaptation of the work from Saintus, deeply influenced by the Vodou tradition within which he was raised.
Saintus dispenses with the idea of the ritual sacrifice of a woman in favour of an ‘exchange’ between the human realm and the ‘Invisibles’: the intermediaries between the Supreme Creator and the world in Vodou. Each of these spirits has a distinct character and personality, expressed through costume and choreography, and the motif of a circle, which is central to Vodou ceremonies, recurs throughout.
Founder and Artistic Director of Port-au-Prince-based dance company Ayikodans, the award-winning choreographer has forged a uniquely Haitian language from classical, contemporary and traditional African dance styles. With this Rite, he challenges the ill-informed Western stereotypes surrounding Vodou, presenting its rituals in a new, celebratory light. The Times called it ‘a boldly original… beautiful spectacle’, while Dancing Times found Saintus’ treatment ‘completely convincing’ and ‘brilliantly served by the dancers of Phoenix’.
Captured in February 2019 at Leeds Grand Theatre, where the production opened before touring the north, the film is directed and edited by Opera North’s Alex Ramseyer-Bache. It matches the score and the action on stage for kinetic energy, cutting rhythmically between Phoenix’s dancers, overhead cameras revealing the shapes of Saintus’ choreography, and shots of the Orchestra of Opera North in the pit under conductor Garry Walker, who has since become our Music Director.
The Rite of Spring choreographer Jeanguy Saintus comments:
“I am moved when I think about the welcoming challenges I experienced rewriting this well-known dance work. At the time I didn’t know the company well, but I quickly discovered I was embarking on that adventure with beautiful dancers and a wonderful creative team.
I am grateful to Sharon Watson, then Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre for allowing me to tell my alternative vision of the Rite through the lens of Haiti’s empowering Vodou culture, my culture. Also a treat was the collaboration with Opera North and its Music Director Garry Walker, who earned my trust starting with the first rehearsal.
I am thrilled that the world can now experience our amazing endeavour from the comfort of their homes. Reaching a larger audience is the goal of every choreographer, artist, and the dancers themselves; therefore, this is a wish realised for me.
“On a personal note, the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the worst periods I’ve experienced. I am still living through it, along with my dancers and dance artists all over the world. On a more positive note, I am working on a new piece, ‘Invocation’, for my company Ayikodans in Haiti, and another production to be presented in Athens in September 2021.”
This autumn, we’ll build on the success of The Rite of Spring with our second major collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre: West Side Story Symphonic Dances, choreographed by Phoenix’s new Artistic Director Dane Hurst.
The Rite of Spring will be available to watch for free from 6pm GMT on Friday 23 July 2021 until 11am GMT on Sunday 23 January 2022. The stream, together with insights on the work and the production itself, can be accessed for free at operavision.eu