DADA MASILO’S THE SACRIFICE
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 28th March 2023
Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring received an uproarious reception when it opened in Paris in 1913. The score went on to become one of the most influential pieces of modernist music, and the ballet has been re-choreographed and represented many times. Now, choreographer-dancer-genius Dada Masilo takes her inspiration from the piece to create this new work, with a specially commissioned score, in which the aim is to retell the story through a fusion of contemporary and South African (specifically Tswana) dance.
A young woman, bare-chested moves across the stage, before an abstract backdrop that suggests landscape and sky. She is agitated, repeating a sort of hand-washing gesture over and over. She reaches for the sky, she bends to the ground – we don’t know it yet but this foreshadows what is to become of her. The young woman is Dada Masilo herself, a striking stage presence with her bald head and regal posture. Next, we meet her community, dancing with joy before a background of bare branches. Their movements suggest animals, particularly birds. There are moments of humour: the dancers stop to castigate the musicians. They want something slower so they can catch their breath! The mood changes – a solitary figure, a leader, implores the skies while the others are bowed in prayer. There is something about the stamping feet and the jerky movements that has echoes of the original choreography by Nijinsky 110 years ago…
The young woman is selected. She is the Chosen One. It’s an honour she accepts with mixed feelings. While the majority of the storytelling is accessible and invigorating, the latter half of the piece loses me a little until the moment of sacrifice comes. The climactic lament, sung heartbreakingly live by Ann Masina, is absolutely stunning. Indeed, the entire score is a garden of delights, performed by a downstage trio of musicians, who blow whistles, vocalise, wave things around their heads, to create the perfect soundtrack for this time-honoured tale. They are: Leroy Mapholo (the sounds he coaxes from his violin are incredible!); percussionist Mpho Mothiba; and Nathi Shongwe on keyboard. Together with Masina, these three are responsible for the excellently evocative score, which I could happily listen to on repeat. Some of the irregular rhythms and percussive beats remind me a little of the Stravinsky…
It’s an absorbing, emotional entertainment performed by a stupendous company. The show has an uproarious reception too, but of a wholly positive nature! While some of the more esoteric elements escape me (and that’s on me), the rest is truly universal and totally human.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Dada Masilo (front and centre) and the company of The Sacrifice (Photo: Tristram Kenton)