Dance, Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s homage to Stravinsky in Ravenna

On the bill at the Teatro Alighieri in Ravenna on 11 and 12 March two new readings of the ‘Sagra della Primavera’ and ‘The Firebird’

Twenty-two dancers engaged in measuring themselves against the musical pages that have made the history (and legend) of dance. This is the ‘Stravinskij Evening’ that the Malandain Ballet Biarritz proposes to crown the dance itinerary of the 2023 Season of the Alighieri Theater. On 11 March (20.30) and 12 (15.30), the company returns to Ravenna with ‘The firebird’ and ‘The spring festival’, a diptych in the sign of rebirth and vital force. The first title is reinterpreted by Thierry Malandain, founder and artistic director whose choreographic imprint takes flight from the culture of classical ballet to lay a modern look on the power, sensuality, virtuosity but also the humanity of the dancing body.

Stravinsky and Fokine drew on the Russian fairy tale tradition for the 1910 Paris debut for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Malandain instead focused on the symbolism of creatures that bind heaven and earth, to the point of making the firebird a ‘ferryman of light’ who brings consolation and hope to men. Even ‘The Rite of Spring’ according to Martin Harriague, a rising star of French choreography associated with the company since 2018, aims to keep the mythical and sacred dimension intact while tinged with contemporaneity. The distinctly corporal and explosive language returns all the fury and mystery of nature that is reborn, of the vital impulse that flourishes in movement and rhythm.

“My culture is that of classical ballet and without any complex I remain tied to it – explains Thierry Malandain – Because, while acknowledging that the artistic and social codes are from another era, I think that this material inherited from four centuries of history gives priceless material and resources for the dancers. So I enjoy becoming classic for someone, contemporary for others, simply looking for the dance I love. A dance – he adds – that not only leaves a trace of pleasure, but that is also linked to the essence of the sacred as a response to the difficulties of being”.

A philosophy of dancing that the ‘Stravinskij Evening’ fully reflects in drawing on the music of the composer who has indelibly marked the career of choreographers such as Fokine, Nijinsky, Massine, Balanchine… and left room for innumerable versions and reinterpretations. For ‘The Firebird’ Malandain worked on the reduction of the orchestral suite already used by Balanchine in 1945. Inspired by the composer Reynaldo Hahn’s comment on a ‘pure, strong breath that comes from above’, the choreography evokes Saint Francis of Assisi, the poet of nature who conversed with his bird brothers… but also the Phoenix as a symbol of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of Christ.

Martin Harriague, on the other hand, finds in the relationship between man and nature a source of fascination as much as concern. In the ‘Rite of Spring’ the rebirth of life is also a struggle for survival, a violent poetry implicit in the iconoclastic genius of Stravinsky’s creation. Harriague retains the composer’s original intention of representing a pagan rite, that ‘dark and immense sensation when nature renews its forms, a dark and deep wave of universal drive’ as Stravinsky himself specified in an article appeared in 1913.

In concert with the pounding rhythm of the music, Harriague renounces all gestural lyricism to concentrate on the expressive power of the primitive movement and the fractal figures in which the group of dancers develops, envelops, unfolds, contracts. Also in this case there is no shortage of citations from the vast gallery of historical interpretations, for example in the trampling that marks the pulsations of spring taken up by Nijinsky, at the time an element of rupture with the classical language.