A performance from Sadler's Wells as part of programming celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes, featuring new works and interviews with acclaimed choreographers.
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In 1909, Paris was at the heart of a cultural revolution.
Artists, composers, designers and choreographers joined together
in an unprecedented spirit of collaboration.
The ring master was Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev.
His remarkable ability to bring seemingly disparate artistic forces together created the Ballets Russes.
Radical composers like Stravinsky and Debussy, cutting-edge artists Picasso and Matisse,
designer Coco Chanel and ground-breaking choreographer Nijinsky
were all key to Diaghilev's unique approach to creativity.
Gone were the ornate sets, tutus and tired productions,
as the Ballets Russes made dance relevant to the 20th century.
In came experimental music,
modernist designs and radical expressive movement.
The Ballets Russes produced a legendary body of work
that was innovative, provocative and continues to inspire.
To celebrate the centenary of the Ballets Russes in 2009,
London's Sadler's Wells theatre commissioned new works
inspired by Diaghilev's
revolutionary collaborative approach.
Three of those works are presented in this programme.
Created by some of today's most radical choreographers,
they combine the talents of contemporary artists, animators, musicians and make-up designers.
The process took them on an extraordinary journey,
exploring the creative legacy of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes
and its continuing influence on the arts.
When Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
were invited to create new works for In The Spirit Of Diaghilev,
they were given an almost blank canvas.
But there were some important stipulations,
as Sadler's Wells' artistic director Alistair Spalding explains.
The first was to still make some connection
with that period,
either musically, or in a thematic way.
And then, secondly,
most importantly, to really have collaboration at the heart of this new work.
What I've tried to do is to create a situation where
great new work can be created and shown.
That's really what we're looking for. We're not looking to shock in the same way,
and I don't think Diaghilev was either. He was just trying to make new work,
and some of it was ahead of its time.
Some of the work we present here is still a little bit ahead of its time.
Legendary Ballets Russes creation L'apres-midi D'un Faune
featured music by Debussy and sets and costumes by Bakst.
Scandalously brought to life by Diaghilev's prodigy and lover Vaslav Nijinsky in 1912,
the piece provided Sadler's Wells' associate artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
with the inspiration to create Faun.
It's quite like a fairy tale. I mean, it has something very...
there's something very innocent about it and you are kind of a witness of another world.
That's what I appreciated so much about Nijinsky's work, you know,
he was really trying to be absolutely honest,
and that's very hard, because people put on masks,
people pretend, people... He was really trying to create a ritual
where he was telling things the way they were.
When the question came about Faun, I started first thinking not about the dance,
but actually about the dancer. It was James,
he was in my company, he was working a lot with me,
sometimes as an assistant, sometimes as a dancer,
and I thought immediately about him
when we were speaking about the idea of remaking Faun.
As a character, what I find interesting is that he's kind of half-animal, half-man.
So I was looking much more for a way of moving that's very animal-like.
And at the same time, there are certain elements that are part of the faun
that you can find in other mythologies.
I wanted it to be about all mythological characters that had that sensuality, that playfulness,
and also this animal-man hybrid form.
It was a piece that was quite shocking
when it came out, because Nijinsky kind of has a moment of ecstasy at the end,
and...and I found that an interesting thing to try and explore, sexuality.
Shock value was really not what we were going for with this,
though of course there are things in it that,
had you shown them 100 years ago, would have been more shocking.
I was thinking, how can I be very suggestive in the movements
in such a way that we think it's natural, it's normal?
But at the same time, it feels like an exploration of something you don't know,
as if, you know, the first time or something.
It's almost inspired by the Kama Sutra.
It's very much intertwined... an intertwining of those bodies,
so that's kind of the aspect that I found interesting
because I hadn't explored it that much in previous pieces, this sexual aspect.
It's looking at a lot of aspects of a relationship
and how this relationship between the two of us develops in many different ways
and so we're able to do that sort of thing,
we're not stuck with the stuff like boy meets girl,
-romantic nymph fun characters, because of this history.
Debussy's original score was complemented with additional music by acclaimed composer Nitin Sawnhey.
What I wanted to do was find,
really, the feeling and continue the feeling
of what Debussy had already done,
as well as continue that flow of the choreography,
so that was really the essence of where we were coming from.
I didn't really want to create a pastiche of his work,
and I needed to find something which had a sense of entering into another dimension altogether.
So the feeling that I was looking for was a sense of a doorway opening up.
Even in the way that the two musical pieces I've added in,
it's very much about trying to find that doorway
and a different kind of perspective on what we're looking at and listening to.
It's great when the make-believe happens together,
when two people see the same thing and go,
"Yeah, and this could happen then," and you get excited together.
We always have the freedom to present our ideas, and in turn,
he gives his own... you know, if we do something that sends out an image for him,
'he'll tell us about this and maybe mould it more to that image
'and then give us something that we can mould more to what we see in it.'
'The nice part of being a choreographer'
is that it's a very social art. You constantly have to talk with people.
ORCHESTRA STARTS TO PLAY
Choreographer Russell Maliphant trained at the Royal Ballet School,
and has performed with cutting-edge companies such DV8 and Michael Clark,
forming his own company in 1996.
AfterLight was directly inspired by his fascination in Nijinsky's artistry.
I had read, many years before, a diary of Vaslav Nijinsky,
who danced with Ballets Russes...
when they were at their height.
Very interesting life, fantastic dancer.
He drew a number of drawings and pastels
and it stayed with me in my mind.
And I find them very sculptural.
You know, there's always a counter-rotation, a twist,
and the use of the arms, where there's an angle at the elbow and an angle at the wrist.
These very fine sculptural positions.
So I thought, "Well, OK, maybe there's something that we could use
"as an inspiration."
We'd been thinking of something with kind of small matchbox-size lights
where you could flash something through,
and you just get a...a...moment.
Gradually, you get two, three, four, five, six,
so more of the movement is revealed.
The lighting concept for AfterLight
came from Russell's long-time collaborator Michael Hulls.
What really inspired me was just looking at the old photographs.
They have a kind of battered, old, monochromatic appearance, and that,
actually informed how I thought the quality of the light should be,
and I wanted it to relate to that.
We looked at some animations,
and when Michael came into that, you know,
he kind of started to paint with that.
It seemed a process that we could...
we could get something that was more fluid than even the moving lights.
More choreographic, in a way. The light can have its own choreography and texture,
so it's sculptural - it's not always the dancer that's being choreographic.
There's a sharing partnership there.
To create the lighting effects they wanted,
Russell and Michel joined forces with someone more familiar with the rock stage.
Animator Jan Urbanowski has previously worked with U2 and Lady Gaga.
It's actually just an animation, it's a lighting source.
And it's the only lighting source, which is...
which is really... it's quite interesting, really.
But of course, the relationship between Daniel the dancer and the light is...
it's so intertwined, where the light is and where Daniel is,
and what Daniel is doing with the light
and what the light is doing with Daniel has been...
To work that out is taking a little while.
As it came about, and we started to work with animation,
it kind of became clear that the strongest element in that
was a solo dancer working with this animation.
Show me a different version where you take the arm over the head,
so instead of the arm being low and then you going under...
There's still a part where you're moving...
We'd been playing with many different things in the sound,
and trying to get something that brought out
what I saw as kind of a ethereal...
texture or quality.
And it was... it was kind of difficult to find it.
And then one night I was sat at home on the sofa with my wife,
and I was doing some computer editing,
and on the video that was running, it had the Satie music.
And listening to the refrains of the Satie music and watching the video,
it seemed that that had a real delicacy to it.
There's a very strong mood generated from that music.
There's a mood of looking back at some of those elements of the time -
the involvement of Picasso, and Bakst and Stravinsky, and Satie,
and Nijinsky. You know, great collaborations that we look at now
and think, "Wow, how amazing that all this went on at that time."
It's very much a new venture. We're still doing what we do,
but we're doing it with Jan and animation.
It's a pleasure to go into...
another collaboration, a different way.
Working with Russell has been fantastic.
For him to be able to think about all of these aspects
and bring this together and to work with all these new people
and new technologies and new aspects and trying to push what contemporary dance is
has been... Yeah, I quite admire the guy, actually.
Come from the wing...
Wayne McGregor combines a role as resident choreographer
of the Royal Ballet with running his own company, Random Dance, which is a resident at Sadler's Wells.
I've got rose-tinted spectacles when we look at the Ballets Russes.
We think of it as an artistic movement which was out of context
of anything else - actually, 1909, when the Ballets Russes was founded,
there was fantastic advancements and excitement around discovery and experimentation,
science, technology - the whole world was changing.
That very much shaped, I think, a lot of those ideas, and so,
for me what I found very curious about it was this idea about, well,
if you look at the social-political context of the Ballets Russes,
is there anything in there that might generate an idea?
And I started to find out that Shackleton had found the magnetic South Pole at that point,
and that feeling of endurance and physical stress that he was under,
this aspiration for the new very much was similar with the notions of the Ballets Russes.
The circumstances of making this dance have been very particular.
We went to America to work with a range of cognitive scientists
to really look at the nature of creativity,
the nature of collaboration from a cognitive point of view.
We would take these Shackleton points of view - this idea that, for example,
when you are going through extreme physical conditions and extreme sub-zero temperatures,
you start to get amnesia,
you start to hallucinate, you know.
The physical stress on your body is expressed in some way,
in some kind of mental, cognitive model.
I thought that kind of connection was really, really exciting to explore,
and it's really actually changed the nature of the choreographic process.
The artwork and visual concept for Dyad 1909 came from
Turner-Prize-nominated artists Jane and Louise Wilson.
Wayne invited us for,
what he felt would be an interesting project to us. I think he felt
that Dyad might actually work well with some of the imagery that we've worked with in the past.
I saw Jane and Louise Wilson's exhibition at the BALTIC,
and it was this really disorientating space,
where multiple projection and multiple surfaces just dislocated your idea of where you were.
I thought this piece would be quite interesting
because so often we understand what the grammar of a stage is,
and I thought if we could start to alleviate that a bit, that might be quite interesting.
The works that we've created are from existing works,
so it wasn't like we were commissioned to produce something new.
It's not like we've shot something around Shackleton, cos obviously, these are existing works.
Maybe, in some respects, that's kind of...made it a little bit more interesting,
because it's been less over-determined in a way. I think if we were looking directly
to try and reference the narrative so specifically,
then perhaps it wouldn't be so interesting.
One of the things I wanted to get in the piece was this sense of going from literalism, if you like,
so a real understanding of what Shackleton and the Ballets Russes was like,
to a surreal kind of space where you got lost.
I thought that content would work really well.
It's still been developing in a way, I'm sure. Once you've got the set in place,
I think that's really exciting,
because I think Wayne wants to get the dancers really to interact with the set.
McGregor was also keen to feature new music and approached Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds
who supported Sigur Ros on their most recent European tour.
I didn't try to make it like the Ballets Russes.
I didn't... You know, I just did my own thing.
I mean, I just thought, there's a reason why he asked me to this,
not someone else.
I just heard his music online, actually,
and I thought there was something about this Icelandic sensibility,
this kind of open space, this sense of distance in the music that was really captivating to me.
And this idea that it kind of was overlaid with these haunting melodies
that, again, were very emotionally evocative.
HAUNTING MUSIC PLAYS
I came here a month ago and I watched them rehearse.
It was in the early stages of rehearsing, so the piece wasn't together yet,
but I just got this really dark feel from them, almost evil, so a lot of it's very, very dark.
Um, it's not supposed to be uplifting or...
anything like that.
The only things that really came from me is that when I'm watching dance,
one of my favourite things is that when you give the dancer space,
when you don't try to completely steer them and control them,
when you give them space to have their own time and do their own thing
so there's an area of time not, like, a bar or two bars, it's just kind of free.
We've got another collaborator called Kabuki
who's this incredible kind of make-up artist whose work we'll finalise today.
What he's done is connected some of those disparate elements, the Shackleton elements,
the Ballets Russes, quite glamorous element, with this kind of almost like a survival mask make-up,
which forces you to look at the body in a different way
because the expression is taken from the faces.
For an artist used to designing make-up for the stars of Sex And The City and pop acts like Madonna,
creating the masks for Dyad 1909 presented a different challenge.
It's not like a literal thing, but something that maybe...
gives you a feeling of something connected to an expedition
to the south pole even though you might not be aware of it.
They could take it off,
so in a way it's more about designing something that you can remove from the face,
rather than a make-up which stays on throughout the show.
A lot of expression, even in dance, comes from the relationship of the face and the body.
When the face is masked or in some kind of change, the expressivity of the body has to change.
That's what they're finding their way through.
The more that they dance in those masks,
the more they'll be able to find the connection with the audience without their normal tools.
So I think that challenge is a good one.
HAUNTING MUSIC PLAYS
I like to find what is the temperature of right now
and how is it I can express myself with the material of the moment?
I just think that is very much, absolutely the way in which Diaghilev would've thought.
How can we set circumstances where we do the brave new thing absolutely of the moment?
AMBIENT MUSIC PLAYS
ROBOTIC VOICE: I remember it well.
I asked you not to go.
But all I heard was the screaming silence of the wind.
And just like the wind will always blow through the leaves,
I will always remember this
as our last lost chance.
PIANO MUSIC PLAYS
POWERFUL STRING MUSIC PLAYS
AMBIENT MUSIC PLAYS
ELECTRONIC MUSIC PLAYS
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
A performance from London's Sadler's Wells as part of special programming celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes.
In The Spirit of Diaghilev features three new works commissioned by Sadler's Wells, along with specially filmed interview content from some of today's most acclaimed choreographers - including Wayne McGregor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant - who share their thoughts on the enduring influence of Diaghilev and the remarkable collaborative spirit of the Ballets Russes.
The performances involve collaborations with artists and filmmakers Jane and Louise Wilson, acclaimed composer Nitin Sawhney and costumes by leading fashion designer Hussein Chalayan.
The programme also offers viewers a unique opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at the new works in rehearsal. It is a BBC Wales Music / Axiom International Films co-production, in association with Sadler's Wells.
Part of the BBC Christmas 2009 season.