Rite of Spring

Music by Igor Stravinsky
Directed & choreographed by Andrea Schermoly
Set Design by Joe Schermoly
Lighting Design by Jesse Alford
Cinematography & Post Production by KERTIS

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Oh, what the human body can do! That thought runs through my mind each time I watch contemporary dance. In Andrea Schermoly’s new Rite of Spring, a world premiere filmed production from Louisville Ballet, there are moments in which the body seems pushed to its limits.

Schermoly’s work feels daring and provocative, choreographed not for the stage but as a film; if the settings appear easily replicated in a theatre the transitions between time and place demand the plasticity of film. A narrative taking place in a frozen, post-apocalyptic planet (not Earth?) beset by a viral plague, it moves one of the most famous ballet scores into the realm of science fiction and social commentary on our current moment in time.

I think it triumphantly fulfills those ambitions, matching the abstract primal expressions of Stravinsky’s music with feral, reactionary movements that capture a sense of tribalism, survivors desperate to hold onto a sense of community. The end of the world as we know it would almost certainly peel away the veneer of civility so that we would be reduced to our beginnings.

In the first section, the white-clad ensemble dances through snow and ice formations (the snow appears to be styrofoam peanuts but is identified in the end credits as material produced through composting), and the plague is here represented by a glowing green LED module. The green seeps into the lighting on the white scene after other scenes are interpolated showing the survivors methodically moving through the hallways of a dull municipal building, where the tone is more rustic. Eventually, they strip off their hazmat-looking white suits and play out the remainder of the story in revealing black garb and at times lit in bold red.

The vigorous interplay of abstraction and narrative makes it easier to relate to the action on basic terms of conflict and resolution, leaving the viewer to provide their own interpretation in whatever story emerges. Schermoly is likely being very specific in the meaning she is seeking, but Rite of Spring has always addressed primitivism and ancient ritual, and the choreographer latches onto that tradition even while she lifts it into a very modern exploration of future shock and the fragility of contemporary society.

Her movement is of bodies disrupted, or at least interrupted, angular yet sinuous, in which awkward gawkiness is repeatedly transformed into the powerful discovery of grace and recovery. The corp is strong and individually expressive while remaining in synchronicity, and solos from Leigh Anne Albrechta, Ryo Suzuki, David Senti, and Allison Haan highlight the quality and energy of these aspects, especially in the more dramatic moments afforded Haan and Suzuki.

As a film, the camerawork and framing alternate between overhead angles capturing the patterns (I always like the in-person balcony view for that reason) and some nearly claustrophobic interior mise-en-scene that are the fullest illustration of the distance from the stage this production is attempting. The razor’s edge between mediums can easily be a trap, but Schermoly and the crew from KERTIS never violate the integrity of one in favor of the other. In the end, this Rite of Spring is much more a film than a stage piece but it never overwhelms the sense of continuity of performance.  

Although I have not watched every filmed dance piece that has emerged while stages are closed, surely this powerful work by a Louisville Ballet Resident Choreographer, danced by company members, and filmed by a Louisville-based media company, will demonstrate to the rest of the world that great art is being made in Louisville Kentucky, and no doubt has been for some time. 

Music: The Rite of Spring, Composed by Igor Stravinsky / Conducted by Vasily Petrenko  / Performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Featuring Elizabeth Abbick, Leigh Anne Albrechta, Emmarose Atwood, Owen Bakula, John Brewer, Kelsey Corder, Tyler Ferraro, Griffin Greene, Allison Haan, Tristan Hanson, Justin Michael Hogan, Sanjay Saverimuttu, Aleksandr Schroeder, David Senti, Ryo Suzuki, Ashley Thursby, & Brienne Wiltsie

Rite of Spring

Streaming April 22 – May 31, 2021

Louisville Ballet
315 East Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.