Interview with Sasha Waltz, Sacre, Sadler’s Wells, London

This autumn Sadler’s Wells, London, welcomes choreographer Sasha Waltz and her tribute to Igor Stravinsky’s ballet masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, to the stage. Celebrating the centenary of Stravinsky’s renowned piece that caused such scandal in 1913 Paris, Waltz’s reimagining draws on the savage forces that inspired the Russian composer 100 years ago. Entitled Sacre, this new performance sees dancers throw themselves into the complex, angular rhythms of the frenetic musical composition. Performed by 28 dancers the UK premiere of Sacre is completed by Waltz’s interpretation of Scène d’Amour (from Roméo et Juliette) with music by Berlioz, and Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune.

A: The UK premiere of Sacre at Sadler’s Wells is fast approaching. What can audiences expect to see, and which key themes are portrayed in the performance?
I am very much looking forward to our performances of Sacre at Sadler’s Wells – one of our company’s important partners. I created my version of Sacre in 2013 and it was, of course, a big challenge to work with this outstanding piece of music that has inspired so many great artists over the past 100 years. To me, one of the key themes is the circle of life, birth and death, which can be associated with the idea of nature. The Rite of Spring and spring itself is related to bursting, to eruption and to eroticism. Rite and sacrifice are at the centre of this cycle – an individual, a woman, is sacrificed in favour of the whole community, to initiate the new beginning, a new life. This relationship between individuals and groups or society has been of great interest to me for quite some time now, and can also be traced in earlier pieces, for example Jagden und Formen (2008) and Continu (2010).

A: Sacre is inspired by Stravinsky’s famous ballet masterpiece. How did the project come about?
The decision to create Sacre took me more than a year and followed two invitations – firstly from Michel Franck of the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées, and then from Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre, where the production premiered. When I started to work on Sacre, I realised its key themes contained questions and notions I had already explored (in a way, circled around) thematically, but also in terms of the music. I knew I wanted to present a large group, a community, partly because the energy of the music is so high and powerful that I needed to find some kind of physical counterbalance in the bodies. I wanted this group to be like a clan, with different generations, which was why I decided to include children as well. The notion of the female and motherhood, explored in previous work, for example in Medea, can also be found in Sacre. As part of my research, I travelled to Kolkata India, to deepen my understanding of rituals and rites, which was a deeply touching and moving experience.

A: The piece captures the juxtaposing sentiments of aggression and delicacy. Do these elements flow naturally throughout your own choreography or do they stem from external influences?
 Moments of violence and delicacy can already be found in Stravinsky’s composition. There is this overwhelming energy in the music, but at times small and delicate, almost tender, moments evolve. This contrast of elements resides in spring itself, and maybe also in the way the members of a group, as an ensemble of individuals, treat each other.

A: Sacre is accompanied by Scène d’Amour with music by Berlioz, and Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune. How do these composers and their music contribute to the triple-bill presentation?
This evening was devised musically in cooperation with Daniel Barenboim who also conducted the first of these Sacre evenings at Berliner Staatsoper. The idea was to show the interesting developments of that time: going from Berlioz to Debussy to Stravinsky, you can hear the dawn of Modernism. The two pieces by Berlioz and Debussy are much more delicate, however, in Stravinsky’s composition, you can perceive a historical change, the eruption of something new.

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Sacre, 11-13 November, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R.

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1.  Sasha Waltz’s Sacre. Photo: Natasha Razina.