A wind with a modern feel is blowing tonight on the works of Igor Stravinsky as the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal (GBCM) perform an interpretation of The Rite of Spring and The Firebird, produced by Etienne Béchard and Bridget Breiner. The press met the choreographers during a rehearsal.
For his very first collaboration with Les Grands Ballets, Etienne Béchard could never have imagined he would have to reinterpret such a major work as The Rite of Spring. "I told Ivan Cavallari [GBCM Artistic Director] that I would like to one day take on The Rite. But I didn't expect it to be following year!" It still amazes this young French choreographer who previously danced with the Ballet Béjart in Lausanne.
For his interpretation of this Pagan rite, danced for the first time by the Russian Ballet to music composed by Stravinsky on the eve of the First World War, Etienne Béchard decided to jump right into modernity with both feet. Far from the dream world in which a young girl is sacrificed to the Spring God, the producer chose to address younger generations, driven by the prevailing style of Stravinsky's music. "I quickly decided to work around the theme of our society and the relationships between different social classes," says Etienne Béchard, who had the artists dancing in a modern arena, made up of three skateboard ramps.
"They symbolize the Roman arena where bread was handed out and games were held for the people. It was also the arena for the rich to entertain themselves in front of the people. But you can imagine whatever you want. There are several levels of interpretation."
"During a rehearsal, someone told me that it made them think of boat holds full of migrants! The lighting used is like that in a football stadium and other modern arenas," said the choreographer.
In this version of The Rite of Spring, we find two groups of dancers representing two different social classes that clash.
"I have worked in a way that is more contemporary, grounded and violent towards the poor. Then I’ve tried to use a more carefree and neoclassical ballet style to represent the richer classes. With dancers as eclectic as those from Les Grands Ballets, I could afford to vary styles, and that's what I think is most interesting." Béchard explains.
A huge success for The Rite of Spring from the young choreographer, Etienne Béchard, a former dancer from the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. Reinterpreted many times, this ballet, initially choreographed by Nijinsky, caused a scandal when it was first created in 1913 due to its modern approach and the new ideas it presented.
Stravinsky's music is rich, rhythmical, deeply rooted in themes from Russian folklore and requires a lot of energy from the dancers who must give meaning to it. Étienne Béchard completely takes hold of this work and recreates a new engaging and visceral choreography, while considering the triviality of the original subject. It is not surprising to know that this comes from a former Béjart dancer as you can sense it in the level of intellect and the way the work has been mastered. It also features some aspects of Nijinsky's original choreography.
On stage are two conflicting groups of dancers. The people at the top of society, soberly dressed, behaving in a conservative and arrogant way, look down with contempt on the people below who move around in a much more grounded, energetic and desperate way. In this piece you can truly feel the company’s united strength and harmony which seems to completely embody this new choreography. The dancers are possessed by the lively music, almost to the point of madness, interpreted with enormous energy, despite some issues of accuracy by Les Grands Ballets's orchestra directed by Jean-François Rivest.