Nicholasleichterdance performs The Rite of Spring, a new world premiere commissioned by The Brooklyn Philharmonic to close their program Earth Awakened, at BAM on February 3.
An out-of-the-box Rite
Nicholas Leichter and Brooklyn Phil take on Stravinsky
By Lori Ortiz
One could say that Nicholas Leichter came to a crossroad last year with his Carmina Burana. After dancing his urban experience for 11 years, he is taking on the classics and finding a future in creating a dialogue between past and present.
People had responded to the choreographers fusion of contemporary styles over the years, but it became an albatross.
Im not into ghettoizing things, he said. Its 2007. Havent we moved beyond all these labels? Once you get past that a lot of things open up.
A door opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Leichter walked through. After a tireless search and an audition process, Michael Christie, the Brooklyn Philharmonics artistic director and conductor, commissioned Leichter to create a Carmina Burana for BAMs resident orchestra, as part of an effort to present local artists and performing arts relevant to their community.
For Christie, NLD is Brooklyn. Their spirit and vocabulary reflect the Borough of Kings.
Its an unusual approach but Leichter sees building partnerships and widening infrastructures as the way of the future.
Youre not climbing up the modern dance food chain anymore, he said. I feel grateful that Im being asked to work outside the box.
After a very well-received performance at BAM, Carmina Burana toured to Oswego upstate. There Leichter found that it could work with just two pianos, full percussion, and vocals.
Few people know that composer Carl Orffs 30s cantata Carmina Burana was intended as total theater with movement. Leichter wanted us to appreciate it away from the Nazi milieu that tainted it. There are only a few Carmina Burana dances. Ailey has one by John Butler.
More than 150 performers NLD, the orchestra, and vocalists comprising three choirs on the Opera House stage posed a real challenge for Leichter. Rite is looking very promising, and does not pose the same issues of scale.
Its more of dance piece, he said. The Rite of Spring could be considered a choreographers rite of passage.
This time I had time to really sit down and really figure out what I wanted to do, he said.
When a call came on his cell phone, and the Philharmonic wanted to get together again, Leichter was ready.
Igor Stravinskys famous ballet Le Sacre du Printemps was created in collaboration with choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in 1913 for Diaghilevs Ballet Russes. Since then, more than 100 versions have been choreographed to the Stravinsky score. To name several modern ones, Leichter cited Paul Taylors, Stephen Petronios, and Emmanuel Gats. Its popularity and familiarity didnt daunt Leichter. In fact it attests to the pieces suitability and audiences receptiveness for infinite reinterpretation.
The music is so passionate and crazy, with incredible range of tempo and emotion. Its challenging. It doesnt hold your hand, Leichter said. But he found that many people are intimidated by the music, even if it has inspired many dancemakers. He wanted to bring out its lyricism, the space in the music that people dont always hear.
In rehearsal, Leichters dancers sensual hips sway and curvilinear arms scoop in earthy agrarian marches. The small troupe of seven pass each other across the stage, carrying the beat in their feet with torsos upright and angular arms bent at the elbows, Egyptian style. The originals primitivism is preserved even when the men spin on their butts and in duets that are complex entanglements. A folksy circle dance, samba couples, bring together past and present, opposite points of the globe, mellifluous and musical.
Leichter marveled at the lack of hostility in the musics crashing horns and trumpets. In his version, as in the original, the energy is channeled into ritual. Two voices clash in pugilistic confrontation.
Calm down, Jared Kaplan urges by grasping Aaron Drapers head and then letting him walk away to chill. Everyone watches from the side to see what will happen. Whatever he does, he has them to answer to.
I didnt need to make a story ballet about a virgin, Leichter said. There is no chosen one. Theyre all sacrificed. Were all dying soldiers no toy soldiers. At what point do we step out of order to change things, to make our voices heard?
The Rite is not joyous or colorful in any version Ive seen. In a pained solo, Dawn Robinson undulates from head to toe and then drops to the floor defeated. Leichter asks, through her, Why does it have to be so hard?
He explained, They er, that is, their characters will not be going out for cocktails after the rehearsal.
The dancers wear work costumes, with a surprise inside. Leichter doesnt say how its resolved only that they dont die in the end.