First in tonight’s double bill is common ground(s), a tender back and forth between Germaine Acogny (co-founder of Senegal’s L’Ecole de Sables dance school) and Malou Airaudo (lead dancer in many of Bausch’s early works), now both in their 70s. Some of their speech is hard to catch, but their body language of protective, industrious, graceful movements is loud and clear, with literal back scratching at one point during the cooperative, matriarchal duet.
Huge steel containers of peat are toppled on The Playhouse’s vast stage before The Rite of Spring. Tonight’s update features 32 dancers from 14 African countries performing the primal ritual. Dancers dart and weave around, like a tightly packed, frenzied shoal of fish or a panicked murmuration of birds, responding to some elemental threat. The technical skill of the huddled group is staggering – there are no collisions despite the fevered, famously intense choreography of Pina Bausch’s astonishing piece which first premiered in 1975.
The ferocity of Igor Stravinsky’s score is matched with urgent patterns from the dancers; women leap weightlessly onto men’s shoulders, arms rake the sky with desperate arcs, feet drag the soil into tense circles, sending the smell of earthy air high above the stalls. It’s a visceral, absolutely astonishing thing to watch, hitting nerves that more classical, less fearless choreography would not. Watching the chosen one dance herself to death in semi-naked, sacrificial spasms, her red slip dress soaked in mud and sweat, is the zenith to an unforgettable, athletic performance about survival and instinct.