More rehearsal photos below
Today is the 140th anniversary of the birth of Igor Stravinsky, so what a perfect day to meet Wayne McGregor and find out more about his two-part Stravinsky programme that opens next week at La Scala.
McGregor uses his piece AfteRite, which he created for the American Ballet Theatre in 2018, for the first half of the programme, and Alessandra Ferri, the creator of the main role, will dance it at La Scala. He has reworked it a little so that it links to the second piece, LORE, “Like a sequel – Jurassic Park II.”
AfteRite was inspired by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring about the impact on nature of man-made pesticides. It is set in an arid landscape based on Chile’s Atacama Desert where videos for the projections were shot. In this harsh environment, a colony of human beings struggle for food and survival. McGregor re-tells The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s story of ritual sacrifice. Here, the Mother (Ferri) must choose what she holds most dear and what she is willing to lose.
“How can you react to the past and yet make it yours? I called it ‘AfteRite’ because I wanted to remember those Rites that have become before… Pina Bausch, Glen Tetley… but I set mine in an alien landscape, maybe of the future, where the land is barren and maybe there’s no water. Maybe it is very like today. I look at the macro picture of the landscape and the micro picture of the mother and her two young children.”
The children are kept in an incubator used to raise plants. Towards the end of the piece, one of the children runs away. For LORE, which uses Stravinsky’s score for Les Noces, we find the child ten years later, the time between the composition of the two pieces.
Just as Les Noces is composed of a collection of fragments drawn from traditional Slavic wedding rituals, McGregor uses fragments of choreography, “Like a glass that is broken. We can put the shards together again, but it is never the same as the original. So there is no single narrative, but it is like a jigsaw with many pieces that we can assemble together ourselves. There are many ways of putting the dancers together too; there are many ways of moving. It’s like an experiment with nature and technology. Technology is us, after all. Much of science and robotics is just trying to replicate aspects of us. Hopefully, the piece is also respectful of [Bronislava] Nijinska’s choreography – it’s one of my favourite works.”
Les Noces shows Stravinsky moving towards a more mechanical, impersonal sound – a sense of human life driven by an external power. In LORE – the title refers to a body of folk traditions and narratives – McGregor too explores the bigger story: that of rituals across time and place. Customs are broken, spliced, juxtaposed and reborn as generations give way to one another and the sacred is constituted anew. ‘Lore’ and ‘law’ are also homophones, and just as we hear Stravinsky breaking the ‘laws’ of composition, we see customs being broken in McGregor’s choreography. “We discard and we remember.” Stravinsky’s bending of the rules is often playful, putting Russian accents in the wrong places, which has given the Russian singers in La Scala’s chorus some challenges.
McGregor is grateful to La Scala for wanting to continue with the project when many new works are being avoided in theatre programming at a time when guaranteed ticket sales are needed to make up for pandemic losses. He is returning to La Scala after Woolf Works in 2019, and LORE is the first piece that he has choreographed especially for La Scala’s dancers. “They are fearless. They are flexible mentally to allow for my non-linear way of working. This work is also theirs – they are co-authoring the piece.”
Asked about his work for theatres – ballets, musicals, operas – as well as films, and even the ABBA Voyage hologram spectacular in London, he says that the variety of work is good for him: “When I’m working for the cinema, someone will maybe tell me to alter something or rethink something, and that’s a nice change for me. I like different working environments. It gives me a beginner’s mind.”
AfteRite + LORE open on 24 June at La Scala, Milan
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.