Although Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is now recognized as one of the most important musical scores of the 20th century, the story of its premiere in May of 1913 is now a legend. And the question of whether or not it was Stravinsky’s music or Nijinsky’s choreography that caused the near-riot reaction from the Parisian audience is still the subject of debate. On Saturday, April 13 at Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, the Akron Symphony Orchestra and Cleveland-based GroundWorks DanceTheater along with guest dancers — both professional and amateur — presented anenthralling new production of Stravinsky’s mammoth ballet score.
During the past few years The Akron Symphony has presented someoutstanding performances resulting from community-based projects (think Porgy and Bess) and Saturday’s performance did not disappoint. Stravinsky said, “What I was trying to convey in The Rite was the surge of spring, the magnificent upsurge of nature re-born,” and GroundWorks’s artistic director David Shimotahakara’s imaginative choreography brilliantly served the composer’s wishes. And a cast of dancers that included GroundWorks’ five members, three other professionals and an ensemble of 15 Akron area students performed with style and conviction.
Costumed in what resembled rehearsal attire, the entire troupe danced with complete commitment to the choreography. To his credit, Shimotakahara made no attempt to recreate the original scenario of the springtime rituals of pagan Russia. Rather his story was a slightly calmer approach that centered around community versus the individual. The sacrificial maiden, The Chosen One in the original, was re-cast as The Other, who is joined by two other figures and together they shared an awakening of new sensibilities. Eventually The Other finds herself ostracized from the group. Finally alone and exhausted, she falls to the ground with her spirit expired. Noelle Cotler brilliantly portrayed The Other, as did Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff the roles of her not-so-loyal friends.
Christopher Wilkins led an energized and rhythmically tight performance of Stravinsky’s bombastic score. There were many fine solo contributions from bassoonist Todd Jelen, alto flutist Sandra Hughes, English hornist Cynthia Warren, e-flat clarinetist Heidi Aufdenkamp and bass clarinetist Thomas Reed. It’s always an event of note when The Rite of Spring is performed, but to hear and to see it performed with choreography was a treat. And the capacity audience responded with an enthusiastic ovation. Hopefully this will not be the last collaboration between the ASO and GroundWorks as there are so many wonderful ballet scores that are only performed in concert version. It would be interesting to see what David Shimotakahara would bring to Stravinsky’s other ballet scores.
The first half of the program was dedicated to the eighth symphony of Dvořák. Composed between August 26 and November 8, 1889, Dvořák
conducted its premiere in Prague in February, 1890. Christopher Wilkins and his ASO musicians somehow managed to give a vibrant performance of the work in spite of the fact that, out of necessity, the orchestra shell needed to be removed thus leaving them prey to the hall’s unflattering acoustics. Still Wilkins and his musicians brought the work’s numerous folk melodies to life. Brava to flutist Barbara O’Brien for her outstanding solo in the final movement.