A new ‘Rite’ 

click to enlarge A Rite
  • Courtesy photo
  • In honor of the centennial of “The Rite of Spring,” Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Saratoga International Theater Institute have created “A Rite.”
Great art elevates, inspires and transports. But sometimes it enrages. One hundred years ago, an affronted Parisian audience erupted into a riotous frenzy at the debut of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the visceral score for the Diaghilev ballet that culminates with a young maiden’s sacrifice to the gods.

Commemorating the anniversary, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company collaborated with SITI (Saratoga International Theater Institute) to create a reconstructed version of the work, which comes to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this week.

Taking on a piece with such a weighty legacy was not something Jones pursued voluntarily.

“Everyone wants to go over the same territory that Nijinsky, Diaghilev and others did,” Jones says. “I (always) said no.” SITI director Ann Bogart convinced him otherwise.

Their new version, simply titled “A Rite,” is performed by what they call “dactors” (dancer-actors) who, along with dance and a spoken libretto, sing sections of the score a cappella.

“The challenge was to go into this warhorse and find a way to make it more physical, more elemental,” Jones says. “The dancers and actors had to master something that even trained singers have trouble doing — to sing two or three sections and achieve harmonies which are dissonant.”

The libretto draws on Stravinsky’s own diaries and those of World War I veterans.

“The war started soon after the premiere of ‘Rite,’” Bogart says. “The theme of sacrifice is prevalent in Stravinsky’s piece. The remarkable sacrifice of the soldiers — and those returning from current wars — all seems to blend.”

Text from contemporary cosmologist Brian Greene added another link; the creators say they wanted a voice of something that is as new today as the “Rite of Spring” was in 1913.

The performance also marks the 30th anniversary of Jones’ company, which continues to bear the name of his late partner Arnie Zane, who died in 1988 of AIDS.

“Arnie believed very strongly in love,” Jones says. “He felt our company should be a picture of the world we want to live in, where power and dynamics are in constant flux, if not being re-investigated, where anyone could dance with anyone, where people like himself without a lot of dance training could still make significant explorations of space and time.”

YBCA is also celebrating Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s anniversary this week with a series including documentary films, a costume exhibit, a symposium, a master class and a site-specific performance at CounterPULSE.


A Rite

Presented by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company

Where: Lam Research Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $30 to $40

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

About The Author

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer

Andrea Pflaumer is a Berkeley-based author and journalist and former dancer who writes dance and arts previews for the San Francisco Examiner. She has just published her first book: Shopping for the Real You.
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