Guest author Jonathan Gray sees Israel Galván's La Consagración de la Primavera (The Rite of Spring) in London
|Title||La Consagración de la Primavera|
|Company||Israel Galván Company|
|Venue||Sadler's Wells, London|
|Date||25 November 2022|
Israel Galván is a major figure not just on the Flamenco scene but also in contemporary dance. Tall, lean and handsome, with an expressive face, his dancing combines all the rigours of a superb Flamenco technique (he comes from a family of Flamenco artists – his father is José Galván, his mother Eugenia Reyes, and his sister Pastora Galván), and a flexible, highly idiosyncratic and individual style of dancing that sees him combine taut, wiry foot and legwork with a relaxed torso and florid, undulating arm movements. Galván is also something of a maverick, creating works that go way beyond the usual Spanish or Flamenco dance shows more often seen in London; he seems to be drawn to exploring concepts and dance styles that fuse into an extraordinary theatrical performance, as was the case in Torobaka, in which he collaborated with Kathak dancer Akram Khan.
Galván's decision to dance to Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, therefore, was an intriguing proposition. Just how would he present this infamous ballet score, with its complex rhythms and patterns of music that convey with visceral power a sacrificial dance to the death, and how would he be able to sustain performing the complete work as a solo? Galván's answer was to create choreography drawn from the dances, poses and photographs of Vaslav Nijinsky, who created the original ballet, with his own, often eccentric, freewheeling vision of Flamenco. It was brilliant.
Danced to the composer's own reduction of the orchestral score for two pianos (wonderfully played by Daria van den Bercken and Gerard Bouwhuis, who were placed on the left-hand side of the stage), Galván adds to the music, tapping, scraping and scratching on the floor and on various amplified platforms, or plucking the metal strings of an upright piano at the rear of the stage. It's marvellous how he can augment the playing of the musicians in this way, even evoking some of the percussive instrumentation in Stravinsky's original orchestral score.
Dressed in black shorts, long shirt and boots, and with thin black stripes painted down the sides of his legs and arms, Galván makes a strong entrance at the beginning of the dance. He repeatedly takes up a pose derived from Nijinsky's L'Aprés-midi d'une faune, his legs turned sideways, his body and arms twisted to the front, his arms extended down as his thumbs splay out from his hands. He breaks into a sequence of stamping feet, the zapateado becoming more and more of a musical instrumentation as he dances, eyes cast down. Eventually, the Nijinsky poses and imagery evolve into a more fluid style of dancing, that – I felt – suggested Nijinsky's own descent into mental illness. The dances build into a crescendo of movement and noise as the first section of music comes to a climax.
The second section begins in darkness, but Galván soon reappears on stage, this time barefoot and wearing a very long skirt that he manipulates around himself, at one point gathering it at his ankles so that it almost becomes a “hobble skirt”, a form of dress that was all the fashion at the time of The Rite of Spring's creation in 1913. One of the most fascinating sequences here was when Galvan danced in the Flamenco style in bare feet, beating out rhythms and pattens of intricate movement with his toes, heels and soles, and in addition making deep pliés and then performing relevés on demi-pointe. As the music finally arrived at the “danse sacrale”, Galván sat in a chair, his long skirt hoisted up over his knees as his feet and legs pulsed their way towards the ballet's inevitable climax.
Galván, however, did not appear to die. Instead, because at approximately 40 minutes The Rite of Spring is too short for a complete evening of dance, he returned to the stage to dance to Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata K87 and then Frederic Rzewski's Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. With fingers clicking, sometimes with castanets, and arms undulating as if he were Vogueing, Galván's dancing combined almost robotic moves with ostentatious flexibility in a seemingly comical way, his face almost laughing as he pursed his lips and angled his head. It's a lighter end to the evening than one might have expected and, almost in parody of the Bulerías that ends a traditional Flamenco dance show, Galván stood within the space between the two pianos as if they had become a flaring Spanish skirt, with hips swivelling and face smiling – I enjoyed his mischief. Israel Galván is an extraordinary dancer, and he gave us a view of The Rite of Spring like no other.
Mayerling – The Royal Ballet, 24 November 2022
As a short postscript to my earlier review of Kenneth MacMillan's three-act Mayerling in London and Paris, I would like to record here the excellent debut of The Royal Ballet's Marcelino Sambé as Crown Prince Rudolf on 24 November. It was a most promising performance, and Sambé certainly has the stamina not only for the difficult choreography, but also the exhaustingly complex pas de deux. Beautifully danced and intelligently acted, he brought a child-like yearning for maternal love to the duet with the Empress Elisabeth (Itziar Mendizabal, superb and perfectly cast) that was very touching. I would like Sambé to suggest more strongly Rudolf's decline into drug addiction and mental illness in the second act, but, dancing with an excellent supporting cast that included the wonderful Francesca Hayward as Mary Vetsera, Sarah Lamb as a manipulative Countess Larisch (one of her finest roles), Isabella Gasparini a terrified Princess Stephanie and Mayara Magri a vivacious Mitzi Caspar, here was a performance by a young male dancer that was rich in future potential. Bravo.