How faithful is your interpretation of the Rite of Spring to the original? Is the choreography similar or has it been completely reinterpreted for the 21st century?
Choreography can change. Each choreographer has their own vision, their own movements. This is important. Since 1913, all the choreographers who have worked on The Rite of Spring have reinterpreted the story, have changed the choreography and adapted it to their own techniques and brought in their own aesthetics. In contrast, in the Asian tradition, choreographers tend to use existing choreographies — they perpetuate it. Choreographers in the West rewrite and choose a musical interpretation that is not necessarily the same as previous versions.
When The Rite of Spring was first performed in 1913, many elements of the original musical score experimented in tonality, metre, stress and dissonance. How do you incorporate these aspects of the music into the choreography?
I'm not a musician, so I am not conscious of the technical aspects. However, we use the musical spirit. When I create a choreographic proposal for a musician, it is him that will do the music, not me. When the music exists, I listen to it, then I formulate the choreographed steps in silence and eventually mix the two. Either it combines well, or sometimes it can combine too well with the choreography and music working too close together. Music is like running water and I try to adapt it, so I do not care about the musical elements as expressed by tone, dissonance and accent.
The Rite of Spring is a very complicated work, but it's different today. In 1913 when the ballet was first performed, muscially it was a shock to the audience. Today we are more used to the score — because of rock and punk, it’s less shocking. But it remains a very complex work. This can sometimes hinder choreographers.
The Rite of Spring represents pagan Russia and includes a large number of pagan rites. Have you changed the nature of these pagan rites to fit your own interpretation of the ballet?
I did not stick to the book. I kept the idea of the Chosen One, but I chose to work democratically, making each and every male and female dancer into the Chosen One at a given moment. I deliberately made sure there is a sharing of roles.
What have you done with the costumes to give the ballet a 21st century edge?
Choreographers bring their own aesthetic, and this also goes into their costumes. I wanted to keep it simple, create an everyday effect. But I also went for a rock ‘n’ roll look, inspired by the costumes of the 1950s. So the dancers wear jeans or black pants with a jacket and a shirt. Then as the dancers strip, they take off their shirts and their pants until they are in underwear. When they get dressed again, they end up looking slightly different. This provides variety.
How do you feel about bringing Rite of Spring to Vietnam? What should the audience expect? Will the performance in Vietnam arouse the same controversy as it did when it first played in Paris?
I have no idea. It is a strange meeting of cultures — I have no idea how people will receive the performance. The idea is to try to make something attractive and pleasing, but without creating unnecessary provocation. In Muslim countries, we cannot strip down to our underwear, for example, so the dancers stay dressed. It does not change the nature of what is performed. There may also be some sort of cultural shock — this happened to us in Kazakhstan. The show may be well-received. It may also be rejected. But that is art. Personally I think people should go and see for themselves and form their own judgements.
In your opinion, what makes your version of this ballet special?
There is a scenic simplicity. The scenery feels and looks like an empty parking lot or a slightly open games room. The same goes for the lighting — it is used to make you feel like you’re in an open, public space. Dance can sometimes be annoying to the eye, and as there are several different things happening at the same time, the audience may find it difficult to know what they should focus on. But that is part of the idea.
The performance also doesn’t necessarily have a central story or a plot. Instead it is a combination of many elements — impressions of human beings caught and stuck in typical human situations. It’s like travelling through a city and catching glimpses of people’s lives. There is no hero or heroine. Instead, through these glimpses we create something that everyone can identify with. And through this we create a whole, a roadmap so to speak.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The Rite of Spring is being brought to Vietnam as part of the 40-year celebration of diplomatic relations between France and Vietnam. It will be performed by the Centre Chorégraphique National of Grenoble and the Paris-based Théâtre National de Chaillot.
The Ho Chi Minh City performance will take place at 8pm on Jun. 27 at Ben Thanh Theatre, 6 Mac Dinh Chi, Q1. Doors open at 8pm.