Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, in Backet, MA, has announced that the contemporary French dance company Compagnie Heddy Maalem, comprised of dancers from Mali, Bénin, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Mozambique, will make its debut at the Berkshires’ dance venue June 25 – 29, 2008.
Artistic director and choreographer Heddy Maalem presents his provocative re-imagination of Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps). Inspiration for the piece derives from time the choreographer spent in Lagos, Nigeria.
Maalem’s explosively contemporary interpretation of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) is performed in a stark white stage set, while the dance is “located” in Africa, with dramatic film interludes that bring the colors, sounds, and images of Nigeria onstage with the dancers. Maalem has said that when faced with the metropolitan cacophony of 12 million people in Lagos, Stravinsky’s throbbing score kept echoing in his head, “Lagos made me think of the end of the world.” This hour-long work for fourteen African men and women, each trained in their own indigenous movement style as well as Maalem’s precise and distinct dance language, has been performed more than 100 times throughout Europe.
“By definition, classic works of art such as The Rite of Spring continue to speak powerfully to artists and audiences, and Heddy Maalem gets to the core of it with his interpretation. I’ve presented and seen many versions of Rite all over the world, and this one is original and inspiring on many levels. The dancers are from all over the African continent and form an extraordinary ensemble, a sort of post-modern “tribe,” and the movement, film and of course the music draw us in, build throughout the dance, and combine to deliver a truly theatrical experience”, comments Ella Baff, Jacob’s Pillow Executive Director.
Maalem has commented, “Le Sacre has been performed a thousand times, unforgettable yet always new, with the same shocking joy overflowing out of time, out of the ages.” His version is striking and straightforward, yet quiet and sensual at times. Dynamic group sequences are interlaced with intense scenes of silence and atmospheric film projections. Dancers melt into one unit, pulsing with energy, and then explode apart only to come back again. The work is performed to the orchestral recording of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Pierre Boulez.
In 1913, Stravinsky’s percussive, driving The Rite of Spring and Vaslav Nijinsky’s radical, angular movements shocked audience members who were present to see Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Void of long lines and elegant movement, the work portrayed pagan Russia and included the sacrifice of a young girl, dancing herself to death in honor of spring. The complex music and violent dance steps prompted catcalls from the audience and the theater soon erupted in fistfights and riots. The uproar became legendary. The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) has since been performed by orchestras around the world and has been staged and re-interpreted innumerable times by choreographers and companies such as Pina Bausch, Doug Varone, and The Joffrey Ballet. Jacob’s Pillow has presented Emmanuel Gat Dance, Shen Wei Dance Arts, and The Paul Taylor Dance Company in recent notable productions of the work.
Heddy Maalem was born in Batna, in the heart of the Aurès, Algeria, to an Algerian father and a French mother. Maalem’s early and extensive training in boxing and the Japanese martial art of Aikido continue to influence his choreography which is marked by precision, sparse vocabulary, and clarity. In 1990, he founded his own company, and in 2000 he began his investigation into the recurring question of identity with his work Black Spring, which would become the first in a trilogy inspired by Lagos, Nigeria. In 2002, Maalem collaborated with Benoît Dervaux to create their acclaimed film, also titled Black Spring, which has been screened and awarded prizes at film festivals around the world. That same year the two worked together again on L’Ordre de la bataille, with Dervaux providing imagery as a backdrop to Maalem’s choreographic inquiry into the meaning of existence in a war-torn world. The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) premiered in 2004, completing Maalem’s Lagos-inspired choreographic triology. The Rite of Spring has been performed more than 100 times throughout Europe and makes its American premiere in June of 2008. Generous support for the U.S. tour has been provided by The Cultural Services of the French Embassy of the United States, CulturesFrance, Afrique en Creation, and ADAMI.
A free PillowTalk film screening and discussion of Black Spring will be held at 4pm on Saturday, June 28 in Blake’s Barn on the Jacob’s Pillow grounds. A powerful exploration of identity, this film by Dervaux intercuts dynamic dance sequences with scenes of everyday life in Nigeria. Maalem choreographed the award-winning film, and he will be on hand to introduce and discuss it.