As a young balletomane, I was fascinated by the story of the explosive performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, performed by the Ballet Russes on a night that basically produced mass hysteria in its audience. Star dancer Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed, and apparently had to stand on a chair in the wings shouting out counts for the dancers, who could not hear the music over the outraged audience’s uproar. The music and movements were so revolutionary, the elite had a collective heart attack that erupted into a riot.
Saturday night I had the privilege of attending the world premiere of a piece by Bowen McCauley Dance, set to Stravinsky’s Mass with the Cantate Chamber Singers led by music director Gisele Becker. Stravinsky’s music is notoriously difficult, but we no longer expect the audience to scream in protest and throw punches at each other as they did that night for The Rite of Spring (though, wouldn’t that be an interesting evening at the Kennedy Center?)! When Becker approached BMD artistic director Lucy Bowen McCauley about collaborating on a piece of music never before choreographed to, by a composer many consider impossible if not painfully hard to tackle, her first reaction was -”What have I got myself into?”
Luckily, the company was well up to the task. No riot occurred, just a beautiful evening of vibrant dance and song.