Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring

Posted: May 20th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring

Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring, The Place, May 17

Seeta Patel Rite of Spring
Sooraj Subramaniam in Seeta Patel’s Rite of Spring (photo: Joe Armitage)

In 1913, when Vaslav Nijinsky was starting to choreograph a new work by the young composer Igor Stravinsky, Serge Diaghilev hired a eurythmics student, Marie Rambert, to assist his protégé with counting the score. The new ballet was The Rite of Spring which famously premiered in Paris in May of that year. After a mere eight performances, Nijinsky’s choreography was lost for almost 70 years until Millicent Hodson painstakingly reconstructed it for the Joffrey Ballet in 1987, but since the latter half of the twentieth century Stravinsky’s celebrated score has become a rite of passage for choreographers eager to challenge the rich complexity of its musical structure. Seeta Patel is the latest to tackle the score but she is perhaps one of the first to formulate her response through the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. It’s a revelation. 

Patel is known for her exquisite solo work but she has also devoted her considerable artistic intelligence to dealing with issues of identity that affect her as an artist and Bharatanatyam as a traditional dance form, from her film with Kamala Devam, The Art of Defining Me, to her dark cultural fable created with Lina Limosani, Not Today’s Yesterday. While her work remains firmly anchored in the Bharatanatyam technique, she has also begun to explore collaborations with complementary art forms, notably in Sigma with Gandini Juggling where her mastery of both rhythm and gesture complement the mathematical precision of the jugglers. In the process she is subtly moving Bharatanatyam away from its original context to reinvent it in a contemporary idiom. This process has reached a new level of maturity in her re-imagining of The Rite of Spring; everything she has struggled to achieve has come to fruition.  

Patel approached what she calls ‘this beast of a score’ by studying Stravinsky’s rhythms with pianist Julien Kottukapilly which she then translated into a carnatic vocabulary with which her dancers could identify. This attention to a score until it becomes embodied — similar to the way Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker approaches her work — is to enter into the music by the same door as the composer; only then is it possible to deliver a response that is true to its structure. To see Patel’s choreography is to hear The Rite of Spring in a new cross-cultural perspective.

The original score is subtitled ‘Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts’, a scenario devised by Nicholas Roerich who also designed the original costumes and scenery. Patel initially follows Roerich’s outline; in the first part, she writes, ‘the excitement is palpable, the dancers still youthful and full of hope, being pushed and pulled by the energy around them.’ The energy is in the music and Patel opens up a dynamic spatial world within it by defining geometric pathways for her dancers. From the opening languorous poses that pay homage to Nijinsky’s faun she builds up the suggestion of a community waking up and setting out into the fields in a spirit of worship. Using Bharatanatyam’s vocabulary of complex rhythmical coordination punctuated by eloquent hand gestures, facial expressions and precise percussive footwork her six dancers — Ash Mukherjee, Indu Panday, Kamala Devam, Moritz Zavan, Sarah Gasser and Sooraj Subramaniam — make the intricacy of the musical textures and rhythms visible while maintaining their ritual allusions. 

Separating the two parts of the score with a brief vocalised interlude, Patel then inverts Roerich’s idea of the Chosen One as sacrificial victim; it is the community who chooses a leader to whom they cede their autonomous power. The tall, imposing Subramaniam is deified, wrapped in blood-red trappings and at the score’s final chord of sacrificial exhaustion he is the one remaining upright spiralling slowly into his trailing adornments as the community crouches behind him in his shadow. 

The setting for this re-imagining is a bare white stage with a white backdrop; the element of scenery is subsumed in Warren Letton ’s subtle washes of colour and in the luminous silk costumes and elaborate makeup of Jason Cheriyan and Anshu Arora. So closely do all the elements of this creation align with the music that it appears effortless; whatever orchestral forces Stravinsky throws at her, Patel transforms them into a field of light. 

The evening begins with Patel’s Dance Dialogues, a short choreographic conversation between six young performers trained in either Bharatanatyam or contemporary dance. The music is by Talvin Singh with live accompaniment by cellist Celine Lepicard who bridges the two choreographic works with a recital of Bach’s first cello suite. 


South Asian Dance Summit

Posted: June 1st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

South Asian Dance Summit, Pavilion Dance, May 17-18

Seeta Patel and Kamala Deva

The Art of Defining Me   photo: Peter Schiazza

The purpose of the 24-hour South Asian Dance Summit presented by Pavilion Dance South West and Asian Arts Agency was to demystify South Asian dance for presenters and producers by allowing them to get up close and personal with the traditional form and contemporary developments. What the summit achieved was to take South Asian dance out of its cultural, indigenous box and to put it on display as a communicative art. Paradoxically, it was seeing Seeta Patel interpreting Marvin Khoo’s Bharatanatyam solo, Dancing My Siva — with all its cultural associations — that put the entire summit in perspective. Here was a classical dance form with its unmistakable sophistication in gesture and rhythm that has been developing for hundreds of years; the way Patel danced it communicated effortlessly a beauty and an excitement that was timeless. At the same time the performance contextualised the efforts by other summit choreographers to derive a contemporary form.

Of the full-length works, Subathra Subramaniam’s Under My Skin takes gesture from another kind of theatre (that of the operating room) as its inspiration in her challenge to ‘the traditional boundaries between clinical practice and dance’. Where Subramanian dips in to the Bharatnatyam form becomes a point of self-identification, a vestige of a glorious past that has nevertheless embraced the present. In his latest work, Power Games, Shane Shambhu adopts the gestures of the trading floor in his comic-strip style story of the rise and fall of a market trader and in Erhebung, Mayuri Boonham marries the sculptural form of the body with a rigid sculptural framework by Jeff Lowe, resulting in a meditative play of movement against stillness, of ripe fruit on a tree.

The summit also presented ChoreoLAB2, a series of shorter works that are still in development. Subramaniam takes her inspiration for a solo from observations of mental illness; in Breathe, Ash Mukherjee crashes deliriously into the traditional form to see what remains; Anusha Subramanyam retains the humanity of the narrative form to depict the humanity of Aung San Suu Kyi and finally Seeta Patel and Kamala Devam play devil’s advocate in a short film called The Art of Defining Me. It raises impertinent yet pertinent questions for audiences and presenters alike, for while it thumbs its nose at cultural claustrophobia and narrow mindedness (as does Seeta Patel’s series of vignettes, What is Indian Enough?), its light-hearted approach effectively transforms our perceptions.

The summit organisers were keen to provide ample opportunities for dialogue between artists and presenters and to cross-reference the dance with other practices. In the lobby of Subramaniam’s Under My Skin were a bespoke tailor, Joshua Byrne, and the surgeon Professor Roger Kneebone (Subramaniam’s collaborator on the project), both of whom demonstrated their respective forms of hand gesture. What the summit showed is thus a broad, interrelated universe of creative expression showing not only the origins but also the new directions of the traditional form. We should not be impatient; we do not have the time to see the development of these forms over the next hundred years, but both past and future exist in the present moment, and that is where the summit unequivocally placed us.