Review: At the Armory, Calm Awaits the Fury of ‘The Rite of Spring’

Those containers, once tipped over, spilled peat across the stage. Like gardeners on a timer, the crew transformed the space as it buried the floor: This time, it was earth and not music, as in “common ground[s],” brought the outside in.

As “Rite” — which on Wednesday featured 31 performers but can include as many as 34 — develops, the dancers, moving in mass formations, tear their way across the stage, jumping, turning and running as the peat sprays into the air and sticks to their sweaty bodies and the women’s white slip dresses, like paint. The men, bare-chested, wear black pants.

They all aren’t just dancing steps; they’re also struggling to survive. In making her “Rite,” set to Stravinsky’s classic, driving score, Bausch asked her dancers a question that lives on as a dramatic, inspiring point of departure: “How would you dance, if you knew you were going to die?”

These convulsing bodies — with, generally, the women separated from the men — are desperate. The men are ominous and the women terrified, but everyone is unhinged. It’s as if they’re possessed and in possession of bodies that have little choice but to bend and buckle; their legs descend in pliés with their feet wide apart while their straight arms, held overhead, crash down between their legs. Over and over, it’s like watching a hammer batter a nail.

A red dress is passed around until Serge Arthur Dodo, a dancer from the Ivory Coast, identifies the Chosen One: Luciény Kaabral, a dancer from Cabo Verde, who fights her fate with glittering fury. Now wearing the red dress and sweeping across the stage with frenzied, frantic rage or quieting down to display a fury of disbelief, it’s as if her mind is drifting away from her body in stages until, finally, she collapses onto the peat-covered floor.

Has Bausch’s “Rite” ever felt this grim? In it, free will doesn’t exist; and now, nearly 15 years after her death, that sentiment doesn’t feel as foreign as it once did. But this “Rite,” even more than relevant, is alive, with blistering clarity.

The Rite of Spring/Common Ground[s]

Through Dec. 14 at the Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan;

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