Lovers of dance doubtlessly have seen, and heard, enough performances of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" this year to last them a lifetime -- this is the 100th anniversary of that legendary debut of what the composer named "Le Sacre du printemps" with Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography that raised the hackles of so many Parisian early 20th-century balletomanes. But face it, centenaries are impossible to resist in the arts world.
Hereabouts, we had Martha Graham's celebrated take on the work in late August at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival; Bill T. Jones' and Anne Bogart's very modern interpretation in a piece they called "A Rite;" at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and a performance to bend only the ears by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit in an August concert at Tanglewood.
In March, Williams College gave Stravinsky's masterpiece the full academic treatment with a comprehensive lecture, excerpts performed by dance department students and the full score played by the Berkshire Symphony under Ronald Feldman's baton. In May the full ballet was performed by the school's Contemporary Dance Ensemble to Stravinsky's original piano score.
Now breathe deeply and prepare for still another installment in the "Sacre" parade: It's "The Rite of Spring" in the singular artistic vision of Shen Wei, the Chinese-born American choreographer, which will be presented as part of the Shen Wei Dance Arts program, Saturday evening at 8, and again Sunday afternoon at 3, in the Hunter Center for the Performing Arts at Mass MoCA.
The performances represent the annual collaborative venture of Mass MoCA and Jacob's Pillow.
Shen Wei, 33, internationally acclaimed for his achievement as the principal choreographer of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, enjoys the reputation of being a Renaissance figure, as not only a prolific choreographer, but a stage director, painter and a veritable human production dynasty that includes set, costume, lighting and makeup design. He is a MacArthur "Genius" fellow.
Shen promises his "Rite of Spring" will be decidedly different from any other effort seen this year,
"I started with the music itself, not Nijinsky's or anyone else's," he insisted during a telephone conversation one afternoon last weekend from his Manhattan studio:
"I focused on the music to look
through the structure and dynamic texture and structure elements," said Shen, who studied the music for two to three years before embarking on his interpretation, which was unveiled in 2003.
For openers, Shen's version has no sacrificial maiden, which has been a basic element in nearly every production of this classic. "No, no one is sacrificed," he asserted. "But you can feel the tension of the sacrifice, the urgency in the music itself, in the movement."
Most choreographers, according to Shen, follow the established narrative of "Rite of Spring," with the sacrificial maiden and other elements regarded as key to its tension. But he says his "Rite" does not have a narrative. "It's an abstract piece, and the inspiration of this piece is not tied to the story behind the music," explained Shen, noting that he paid particular attention to the patterns of Stravinsky's music.
The dance will be set to the composer's original score for two pianos. He will use a recording of that four-handed version, and when asked why he will not bring two pianists with the troupe in order to have live music with the dance, he confided, regretfully, that while he would prefer that option, "the presenter has not enough of a budget. It's tough on money."
Shen's costumes in tones of gray are complementary to his setting, which involves a huge canvas, painted by Shen, which covers the entire floor.
"It is an acrylic abstract painting," he said, noting that due to its rough textures, "Rite of Spring" will be danced in stocking feet rather than barefoot.
Shen said he is bringing 15 dancers who will appear in both "Rite of Spring" and the program's second piece, "Collective Measures," an exploration of personal separation within physical proximity of others, Shen says.
"The score is electronic music by friends of mine (Daniel Burke and Jerry Feller)," Shen said, "interesting experimental music."
The dance employs video projected on a scrim in the middle of the stage, which serves as a dividing line for the action.
"Collective Measures," Shen suggests, is "a new approach to contemporary dance, and also multi-media. It's about time and space."
What: Shen Wei Dance Arts
Who: Mass MoCA in partnership with Jacob’s Pillow
When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mass MoCA, Hunter Center, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams
Tickets: $39-$20; students $15
How: (413) 662-2111; massmoca. org; in person at Mass MoCA box office