Interview: Clémentine Deluy

The UK premiere of Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring was performed in 1978 at the International Festival. As it returns to Edinburgh this year we find out more from artistic director Clémentine Deluy

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
33999 large
The Rite of Spring
Photo by Maarten Vanden Abeele
Published 14 Aug 2023

“It was a dream of mine to dance her piece since I was 15,” says Clémentine Deluy, a French dancer turned artistic director for the Pina Bausch Foundation. In 2001 Deluy was finishing her studies at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, where Pina Bausch also studied, when the legendary German dancer and choreographer came looking for dancers. After rigorous auditioning, Deluy was selected to join Bausch’s company. 

Deluy has danced Sacre (short for Le Sacre du Printemps, the French title for The Rite of Spring) more than any other of Bausch’s pieces and describes it as both, “a nightmare” and something that summons a dancer’s “instinct for surviving”.

“Pina’s directions for the dancers were very detailed, very precise, sometimes very tedious!,” shares Deluy, reminiscing about working with the pioneering choreographer who died in 2009. “But she always took the time when rehearsing and Sacre really demands that. It’s a very complex group piece.”

Bausch’s groundbreaking version of The Rite of Spring premiered in 1975 with an intense, exhilarating score by Stravinsky. Dancers are barefoot on a peat floor, acting out a gruelling, primal ritual between men and women. It’s a study of misogyny and an urgent battle of the sexes where one young woman must become ‘The Chosen One’, dancing herself to death. 

“How would you dance if you knew you were going to die?”, Bausch asked her dancers. Her work was famously informed by relationships and trauma, the back and forth of human interactions, the suffering and repetition and joy. 

“Even if they do exactly the same movements, each dancer brings a different approach,” says Deluy. “We don’t want copies, I tell the dancers that. We want dancers to bring their own individuality and emotion into Pina’s work.”

The Rite of Spring, photo by Maarten Vanden Abeele

In 2021, Bausch’s son Salomon, chair of the Pina Bausch Foundation teamed up with the Senegalese dance school, École de Sables and London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre to premiere a new version of her celebrated work, featuring 32 dancers from 14 African countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. It’s hoped the ‘transmission project’, which is the subject of a new documentary, Dancing Pina, will grow an understanding of Bausch’s important work amongst modern audiences.

“The dancers come from very different backgrounds,” explains Deluy. “Some have studied African dance, jazz or hip-hop. The Ivory Coast, for example, has over 60 ethnic groups, all with different traditional dances. I come from the ballet world. But we stick to Pina’s choreography. We have her original book with notes, everything was recorded from 1973 onwards. It was a great support for me.”

Although Deluy is very familiar with the work, she continues to learn from it each time they rehearse. “I open my gaze. I focus on the men more now, not just the female roles. We are extremely lucky to have this strong team full of experience. The production, like the work itself, is an enormous group effort.”

Within the team are Deluy’s two co-artistic directors, Jo Ann Endicott and Jorge Puerta Armenta, who both danced in Bausch’s Tanztheatre Wuppertal. “Jo Ann is one of the original dancers who created The Rite of Spring, so I got to work beside her and share important information direct from the world of Pina.”

The three-night run of The Rite of Spring is performed alongside common ground(s), a thirty-minute duet by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, two female dancers greatly inspired by Bausch. Acogny co-founded the École de Sables in 1995 and feels there is a huge synergy between Bausch’s work and African dance. 

“After a couple of minutes of Sacre, the floor is already like a warfield with mud everywhere,” says Deluy. “The women’s costumes are these barely there slips, like a second skin. Sometimes the dancers must move in a very narrow space – and often they end up completely covered in sweat and mud. The dancers – even the costumes – everyone goes on this voyage together, a journey. We are so lucky to experience that.”