This year marks the 100th anniversary of the controversial performance in Paris of composer Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with choreography by Ballet Russes’ Vaslav Nijinski. The dissonant musical chords combined with turned in, abstract, decidedly non-balletic movement famously incited a riot at the theater. The desire to tackle this musical monster of a work choreographically is apparently irresistible as a number of companies across the world will be presenting myriad versions during 2013 in honor of the anniversary (including a recreation of Nijinsky’s original by The Joffrey Ballet in September). Add to the list of risk-takers, Wade Schaaf, Artistic Director of Chicago Repertory Ballet (CRB), now in its second season. His futuristic version blending ballet and contemporary vocabulary with sets and costumes by Nathan Rohrer uses 15 dancers and will serve as the second act of this weekend’s CRB performances. This is quite an undertaking for a small, young company, but when I talked with Schaaf last week, he seemed calm, cool and ready for the show.
I asked the obvious question first. Why? “I’ve had a few story ballets that I’ve been sitting on for the past four or five years that I just want to get to and ‘The Rite of Spring is at the top of the list,” he said. “I first saw The Rite of Spring about 15 years ago and it was the best thing I’d ever seen. It was so captivating I was in love with it. I’ve always wanted to do my own version of it. I did see the Nijinski version by the Joffrey first. Then I saw Salvatore Aiello’s version at Ohio Ballet. They did a version that was pretty darn awesome. To me, at the end of the day, I find [the story] to be about people…the sociology of the situation. I feel like I’m always hearing about how the world is going to end. I’ve been hearing that message and kind of inspired by that idea. This group of people we’re looking at is some time in the future, some time after the civilization we’re living in has passed away. Humanity has started over again and we’re looking at this group of people that all the rules and ideas and concepts we have as a society don’t apply to.” And that notoriously difficult music? He laughs, answering, “It is impossible to count. It’s really difficult. I just figured I’d do my best with it. I really listened to the score and it helped me build the story. I looked at the markings that Stravinsky put in the score and the titles he gave and that really helped me understand where he was and helped me build my story from that.”
The first half of the show is a mixed rep including world and company premieres. “All the work is new to the dancers,” Schaaf said. “It’s so awesome!” Along with Rite as a world premiere is a work from Chicago artist Monique Haley ( River North Dance Chicago, currently in The Jungle Book at the Goodman Theatre). Company premieres include a duet from New York-based choreographer Manuel Vignoulle, a re-worked piece by Jacqueline Stewart as well as a work by Jessica Miller Tomlinson (Schaaf previously danced with both Stewart and Tomlinson at Thodos Dance Chicago).
Chicago Repertory Ballet presents The Rite of Spring and Contemporary Works Friday-Saturday, June 21-22 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 23 at 2 pm at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St. Tickets are $25. Click here to purchase.