Since its creation 100 years ago, The Rite of Spring has become a test of choreographic mettle for successive generations. Nijinsky’s original movement is long gone, so each brings his or her own concept to Stravinsky’s iconoclastic score. Only a few have succeeded in matching this musical behemoth – Bausch, MacMillan, Keegan-Dolan – an exclusive club to which Meryl Tankard can now claim admittance.
The Oracle approaches Rite in a novel way: instead of the force and power of massed dancers, Tankard has opted to make it a solo, or series of solos, for the Australian dancer Paul White. White’s compact muscular frame recalls that of Nijinsky, and indeed Tankard goes so far as to evoke the legendary Russian with a few hints of pose. But she also strips Rite (and indeed White for some of the performance) bare, exposing its very sinews. In truth it is not a pure solo, but rather the interaction between a human being and his surroundings.
Inspired by the art of the Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, Ré́gis Lansac has designed sets and video that provide a mysterious, ominous environment. The video, set to a baroque magnificat by João Rodrigues Esteves, projects kaleidoscopic distortions of White’s body as a sort of prelude before the dancer himself rises to the opening bassoon of Stravinsky’s music.
Through White, Tankard explores myriad emotions and states – the feminine and the masculine, introspection and ecstasy, grace and brutality. Alone, White seems to act as a semi-divine, shaman-like intermediary between the audience and the world of the screen – he even duets with his own shadow at one stage. He is an eloquent dancer: clad either in a voluminous Martha Graham-esque skirt, small briefs or, for the final Danse Sacrale, simply naked, his musculature rippling, his body making visual the sounds of this extraordinary score, the performance distilled.
Tankard focuses as much on the smallest of gestures as on great leaps and twists; shudders of the body, the momentary lifting of a foot, the agonised spasms of fingers count for as much as White’s bursts of violent physicality. It is a brilliant concept, superbly executed but the question remains: can The Oracle survive beyond White’s performance?