Is this the best unique dance piece to come out of the pandemic? Dancing at Dusk: The Rite of Spring

Whilst I am writing this, I am on day 135 of lockdown. After more than four months of staying at home, taking ballet classes on Zoom, submitting all of my third year university assignments online, and only really leaving the house to do the food shopping and walk the dog, it feels very strange to look back on life before the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

Before the pandemic forced the UK into an extensive lockdown, I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend my time totally immersed in dance, in one of the best locations for dance in the world. I had the privilege of studying at the university ranked number one for dance research, spending my days taking dance classes and attending lectures, enjoying unlimited access to beautiful studios, a library full of hundreds of dance books, and an expert dance faculty. I spent my evenings and weekends training at a wonderful ballet school under excellent and knowledgeable teachers. Most fortunately of all, I was able to attend dance performances and events all over the city- several evenings each month, often more. A lot of the time, I was generously invited to attend these performances for free as press, and I would write about the performances here on the blog or on social media. I won’t say that I took any of this for granted: it’s not so long ago that I had to really struggle just to be able to pursue dance at all, so I cherished every day that I spent dancing, and I valued every opportunity to see wonderful dance art, broadening my mind and passing on the wonders of those experiences to my readers.

However, that all stopped very abruptly as dance studios, theatres, schools and companies across the country- and across the world- closed their doors indefinitely. Still now, as lockdown measures are slowly starting to ease here in the UK, I miss more than anything being able to dance in a studio, and the irreplaceable thrill of watching live dance performances.

With the arts industries suffering huge financial losses as a result of the lockdown restrictions, I assumed that it would be a very long time until I would be able to attend a press evening at the theatre again, if ever. Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised when a press invitation from Sadler’s Wells popped up in my inbox! The email invited me to a unique online dance experience and I am so pleased I found some free time in my schedule of Zoom classes, home ballet practice, online auditions, baking experiments, and extensive dog walks to take up the offer!

Dancing at Dusk- A Moment with Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring is a dance film not quite like any other. It was originally intended as a performance of Bausch’s iconic 1975 version of The Rite of Spring, and was just about to begin touring when the pandemic forced the project to be postponed. The project is a collaboration between Sadler’s Wells, The Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables, Senegal, featuring a company of 38 dancers from 14 African countries. When news came that borders were closing and the tour would have to be postponed, the company decided to come together for one final rehearsal, which was moved outdoors, and documented on film. The result is a dance film that is beautifully raw and breathtakingly real.

Dancing at Dusk © Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion

I enjoy watching dance pieces online and on screen. It’s an amazing way to experience dance you might not otherwise get to see, to see performances from the great dancers of the past, and to watch dance performances by companies all over the world: however everyone is in agreement that nothing can compare to seeing dance live. This film doesn’t compare to seeing dance live, not because it’s less-than, but because it isn’t a filmed stage performance- it’s not even a dance film, really, it’s something completely other. The context makes this film very special. This rehearsal takes place on a sandy beach in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal. It begins with the rehearsal director giving the dancers some instructions, the dancers standing at the side of the square of raked sand serving as the stage stretching and chatting. It’s a scene that’s heart-wrenchingly familiar to every dancer, and at the same time so different, in this unusual space under such unfamiliar conditions.

Then begins the full run of the piece. There’s a tension as the piece begins- a feeling that for the dancers, this is their last chance for a long while to dance this piece they’ve been preparing so diligently. This film is so real, I felt that I was there dancing with them. I could feel the breeze tugging at the thin dresses the women wore, the coarseness of the sand underfoot, the gaze of the curious passers-by in the distance, and the bittersweet feeling that comes with dancing something for the last time. I could feel their passion and energy in giving this one last run-through everything, and their mourning in the loss of what this was supposed to go on to be.

Dancing at Dusk © Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion

Bausch’s Spring is really indescribable. I don’t need to go into a review of the choreography- for me, it’s one of the most perfect dance pieces. Seeing it performed outdoors on the sand, I somehow felt that this was surely how it was intended to be danced all along. For those who have never seen it, Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring is performed by many companies and usually features a square of raked earth on the stage. However the breeze, the sea, the sand that must have been a challenge for the dancers to deal with (though they did not show it); this all seemed to fit so well.

The cast were perfection. During lockdown, we have experienced a coming together of people in advocacy for civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, and attention has been drawn to racism and inequality in all its forms as it exists and persists in modern life. We are starting to realise the racism, inequality and prejudice present in the dance industry as a whole. With black dancers under-represented in so many companies, and in many of the stories told through dance, now is the perfect time to see a cast of amazingly talented black African dancers excelling in the most challenging of conditions. And these dancers really did excel here- this film is not the performance that was intended, simply a rehearsal, in a completely unfamiliar environment, but they danced with utter conviction and their performance reaches through the camera to move you.

Dancing at Dusk © Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion

You have until this Friday, 31st July, to experience this totally unique dance film for yourself for only £5. I can’t emphasise enough that this isn’t something you should miss- it’s something that brings together so much of what we’ve collectively experienced these past months, expressed stunningly through this iconic choreography. Watch through Sadler’s Wells by clicking HERE.

Dancing at Dusk © Florian Heinzen-Ziob / Polyphem Filmproduktion

Comment your thoughts below when you’ve watched it, I would truly love to hear your reactions!

Stay safe and keep dancing everyone,

Jessica x

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