Date: December 31 2012
EVERYBODY'S doing it. Across the country, in the concert hall and theatre, in music, movement and words, artists are rushing to mark the centenary of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.
In his best-selling survey of the music of the 20th century, The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross tells the story of its opening night. It was in late May in Paris, 1913, when Ballets Russes presented Stravinsky's newest ballet at the Theatre Champs-Elysees. Everyone who was anyone was there, lured by Serge Diaghilev's promises of ''a new thrill that will doubtless inspire heated discussion''.
By the time the onslaught of offbeat chords and ferocious, pagan dance moves began, the crowd was ready to riot. There were howls of protest, punch-ups and a review in The New York Times. A succe`s de scandale indeed.
A hundred years on, no one is expecting riots. But the fact that the Sydney Symphony, the Melbourne Symphony, the Adelaide Symphony, the Australian Youth Orchestra and the Australian World Orchestra are all presenting Stravinsky's most notorious work in 2013 is testament to the enduring impact of the work.
Before the orchestral deluge, however, Sydney Festival presents a Rite to challenge your preconceptions of beauty, dance and the work itself. It has a bare stage, two dancers and two pianists playing Stravinsky's four-hand version of the massive orchestral score, live, as the dance plays out. This is the Australian premiere of German artist Raimund Hoghe's intimate and moving interpretation of this 20th-century masterwork.
Hoghe is a portrait artist. His medium was, initially, words: his word portraits depicting celebrities and outsiders for a German newspaper were later compiled into several books. From 1980 to 1990 he was dramaturg for Pina Bausch's legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal.
In 1989 he began creating theatre pieces for actors and dancers, and in 1994 danced his first solo, Meinwarts, based on the Jewish tenor Joseph Schmidt. He has gone on to create several original group works and re-inventions of seminal dance pieces from Bolero to Swan Lake. In 2008 he was named Dancer of the Year by the German magazine ballet-tanz.
Hoghe is not your stereotypical ballet dancer. He is middle-aged, short and has a deformed spine - a hunchback. In his version of The Rite of Spring he is partnered by the young, tall and athletic Lorenzo de Brabandere. The physical contrast is stark, but Hoghe reaches beyond the superficial differences.
"People describe Lorenzo as beautiful and I am the ugly person. We do not see each other like this,'' Hoghe says. ''When you communicate you don't see, you don't think about the colour of skin of someone. This is for me important."
Speaking from Germany, he does not shy away from talking about his disability, acknowledging it adds a dimension to his work.
"I want the right to express myself like other people,'' he says. ''We all have different bodies. When I was with Pina Bausch, she had very different women on stage - tall, small, big, thin. This was very interesting.
"My body is not a usual body. Very often it is described as an ugly body. I don't see myself as an ugly person, but some people do and for me it is important to talk about beauty.
''For some people Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very beautiful man and for others not. Breasts with silicon, for some people it's beautiful, for others not. So we can discuss beauty, but I am against that people who are different, like me, are described as ugly. I am very interested in diversity of people."
He is interested in the diverse reactions the work has provoked. Hoghe frames his work with recordings of Stravinsky, talking about The Rite and its first performance. He is very aware of being just one artist, just one point of view, interpreting a work that has entered the collective consciousness.
"Stravinsky said, 'I am the vessel through which the Sacre passes.' For me it was the same. We listen to the music and the music told us what to do."
Sacre - The Rite of Spring plays from Saturday to Tuesday at Carriageworks. Others performing Sacre include Sydney Symphony from June 13 to 15, the Australian Youth Orchestra on August 3 and the Australian World Orchestra on October 3, all at Sydney Opera House.
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