Two brothers are caught in a wrestling headlock. Whether the image brings back childhood memories or suggests a mythic battle, it begins the story in Christopher Hampson’s “The Rite of Spring,” a world premiere that will open Atlanta Ballet’s “Fusion” this Friday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The ballet joins Helen Pickett’s “Petal” and Val Caniparoli’s “Lambarena” on a triple bill of contemporary works. The show will run just this weekend, March 25-27.
At a recent studio preview at the Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre, Hampson, wearing neat, casual jeans and with subtly spiked hair, spoke to patrons and press about his newest work. It’s good to see him back in Atlanta. Just two years ago, Hampson visited to re-stage his “Sinfonietta Giacosa,” a work he created with Atlanta Ballet in 2005.
But “Sinfonietta” is as different from “The Rite of Spring” as Martinu’s music (for “Sinfonietta”) is from Stravinsky’s revolutionary score. Composed in collaboration with choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, the original 1913 Ballets Russes production in Paris depicted a pagan ritual in which a maiden sacrificed herself to ensure the earth’s fertility. The violent music and jagged, earthbound choreography — ballet’s first strong dose of modernism — incited a riot in the theater. But neither the music nor Nijinsky’s choreography are shocking now, Hampson noted. Since then, more than 200 dance productions have used Stravinsky’s score, he told the audience. It’s part of our culture.
More likely to be shocking, Hampson said, is his choice to use only three dancers, two male and one female, in a story stripped down to its essentials. He has set the trio in a stark, monochromatic world where a pure white semicircular wall curves up out of a white floor. The wall encloses the space, as if there’s no way out.
My AJC preview described the opening duet of Part 1, which Hampson titles “Then,” where Christian Clark and Jacob Bush appear as brothers, barefoot and bare-chested in black robes. Clark’s character, the older brother, moves with sharp, combative actions. The impression is riveting. Bush’s gliding moves — no less magnetic — show that he’s younger, lively and more naïve. Soon, Clark dominates Bush in the headlock. Later, Hampson explained, the woman appears, in white, as Faith. In keeping with his aggressive character, the older brother chooses to accept Faith in a brutal manner.
In Part 2, titled “Now,” Clark returns as a different character, a Soldier, and the woman appears as Death. (Yes, her little black dress is a reference to Zizi Jeanmaire in Roland Petit’s “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.”) In the end, the younger brother has to pay for his brother’s cruel actions, within a culture that’s not his own.
Hampson later explained that he kept the title, “The Rite of Spring,” to show parallels between the original production’s pagan rituals and the rituals shown in his trio, and because the idea of sacrificing a human, “to an unknown entity, another world,” is still relevant today.
“It could be viewed that we’re still offering — whether that’s offering a political prisoner, whether that’s annihilating a culture so that another culture can come forth — and we are still performing rituals to satisfy our own ‘civilized’ belief of what is right and wrong.”