AfteRite + Lore review – Wayne McGregor’s radical Stravinsky double bill

·3 min read

Igor Stravinsky arguably had more effect on ballet than Tchaikovsky. For Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes he composed The Firebird, Petrushka, the riot-provoking The Rite of Spring and Les Noces. In the US, he produced Apollo, Agon and Scènes de ballet.

There are other scores, too, and other works by the composer that choreographers have used. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that the galvanising effects of those groundbreaking early scores changed dance for ever.

They have also continued to inspire choreographers to test themselves against them. The latest to take up the challenge is Wayne McGregor, who unveiled a double bill in Milan last week made up of AfteRite, to the Rite of Spring score from 1913 (first seen in 2018 with American Ballet Theatre), and Lore (a world premiere) to Les Noces from 1923.

Almost every choreographed version of The Rite of Spring uses the percussive, propulsive nature of the score to provoke unified group movement. McGregor’s AfteRite takes a radically different approach, picking out its sense of strangeness, its odd, melancholy strains, and dividing them between his dancers.

Vicki Mortimer provides an otherworldly set, dominated by an enclosed glass box full of plants growing without soil. Outside, the terrain is alien and unfriendly, an other-planetary setting that feels as much inspired by Kubrick and Tarkovsky as by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, a non-fiction horror story of environmental damage, which McGregor cites as his starting point. Lucy Carter’s cold lighting scans the space.

At its centre is Alessandra Ferri, playing the mother who is separated from the dancers around her, abused and menaced by a man (Nicola del Freo) who at one point places a hood over her head. Two girls appear, peering through the glass box. She places her arms protectively around both, but then allows one to run, while one returns to the box where she is gassed. It’s unsettling and upsetting.

Ferri is extraordinary, the tragedy of the story revealed in her expressive face, dark eyes dominating. She’s nearly 60 now, dancing with great depth and power. It’s not just her flexibility and grace that impresses but the dramatic quality she lends every movement as she fights her fate, consumed with agony.

Around her, the dancers from La Scala look just as strong. They are dancing beautifully, their movements centred but with unusual softness. They shine, too, in Lore, which begins with a moment of continuity with AfteRite as the escaped child seems to appear and grow into a woman – Nicoletta Manni – who begins the action with a solo full of turning pirouettes and rippling arms and hands.

The action, like the score with its four voices, four pianos and four percussionists, is more abstract and pared-back than Rite, though in Mortimer’s design (this time with lighting by Jon Clark) the stage is still separated into areas of action, overhung by Ravi Deepres’s video projections of red smoky clouds, and a tree that looks like an explosion.

The dancers, in pairs and small groups, sometimes with a phalanx of youngsters behind them, enact little rites and rituals, memories of another time, patterns that seem to bind them together as they approach the future. There are nods to Nijinska’s original choreography for Les Noces, but the mood and the movement are all McGregor’s own, and richly compelling.

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