dancers can only count to 8 (false!)

This post will be dedicated to Yuri Possokhov’s new ballet, The Rite of Spring, opening Tuesday, February 26th, at the San Francisco Ballet.

I am dancing in the ballet, but I also have had the unique opportunity to work closely with Yuri during this process as rehearsal assistant, along with Anita Paciotti, ballet master.  It’s not often that a dancer is asked to do double duty so to speak, so I’m very honored that Yuri approached me about helping him with this project.  It has been an extraordinary journey to see this ballet come together.  From working one on one with Yuri in the studio, to watching his vision come to life in rehearsals with the dancers, this has been an amazing experience that I have learned a lot from, and one that I will always remember.

Rite of Spring was composed by Stravinksy in 1913, for Diagihlev’s Ballet Russes, with choreography by Nijinsky.  The Parisian audience at the premiere was induced to near riots due to the shock of the unconventional music and choreography.  Throughout the century however, Stravinsky’s score has been elevated to the status of masterpiece, and stands as a true example of modernism.  After this intimate experience with it, I would now consider it one of my favorite pieces of music.

rite of spring

I obtained a copy of the score, so I could follow along and understand Stravinsky’s rhythms as much as possible while Yuri created the steps.  I can read music from my days playing piano, but this is not your run of the mill score!  The meter goes from 6 to 4 to 3 to 5 to 9, with unexpected accents all over the place!  With Anita and Yuri, we would listen to the recording, refer to the score, and then decide the best way for the dancers to count each section.  There’s a joke that dancers can only count to 8, (which is so not true!!), but what we do have is “dancers’ counts,” where we count our own version, usually different from what the orchestra is counting, mainly just because we don’t have the luxury of having the score in front of us while we’re dancing.  We do have plenty of 11’s and 12’s, even an 18 in one spot!

The more I hear the score, the better it gets.  I also find myself not having to count as much anymore, I just start to feel the rhythm in my body, and its hard to believe that I ever had problems knowing what accent went where.  The SFB orchestra today played two run throughs, with additional players in the pit, and they sounded fantastic.  This ballet will be a feast for your ears as well as your eyes.

Speaking of what you’ll see, I don’t want to give away too much, but it will be a full stage, with full production value!  The cast is huge, and there were many rehearsals where I felt like a traffic cop!  The story follows the original: a pagan society sacrifices a maiden to appease the gods.  The movement is earthy and grounded, and Yuri keeps using the word brutal.  I would also call this ballet: raw, primal, beautiful, and sexual.  I’m excited to hear what other feelings or descriptions people will have for it…

(more to come on Rite of Spring…)