Giving dance its due review in research

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When Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) opened in Paris in 1913, the ballet nearly caused a riot. Now, a century later, Don Wright Faculty of Music lecturer Miranda Wickett’s paper, Spring in Wartime: The Post-War Effects on Bausch’s Le Sacre du Printemps, is causing a similar stir amongst dance researchers.

Not exactly the reception she was expecting.

“It was part of graduate course work,” Wickett said of the article, recently accepted for inclusion in a new publication, The Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship. “I wrote about how growing up during the Second World War and through the Cold War affected Pina Bausch’s choreography, and, in particular, her (version of) Rite of Spring. I didn’t think anyone would want to read it.”

Being a dancer, choreographer and teacher herself, Wickett put movement to her words. “While writing the paper, I had students from my classes perform my interpretation based on Bausch’s as a companion piece to the paper,” she said.

“Her feelings of isolation can resonate with people everywhere. The Rite of Spring music is so powerful, so difficult, it doesn’t leave a moment for the dancers to breathe, leaving them isolated. The physical work really informed my writing.”

Written by Igor Stravinsky and originally choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, Rite of Spring was ahead of its time. Stravinsky was a young composer, experimenting with rhythm, meter, dissonance and tonality. The work influenced many 20th-century composers and is one of the most recorded classical pieces.

The story is based on primitive rituals of spring, including one in which a young woman is chosen as a sacrifice.

Bausch was born in 1940, near Dusseldorf, Germany, and studied with Kurt Jooss, one of the founders of German Expressionist dance. Considered one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, Bausch was known for juxtaposing lyrical and mundane movements.

Her version of Rite of Spring, created in 1975, is a “hot, dark and terrifying” performance, as one critic would write. Involving dozens of dancers, the staging requires, among other things, the stage to be completely covered with soil. It is a powerful representation of the work.

For Wickett, examining the relationships between dance and other fields is a burgeoning area of research.

“This field is really subjective,” Wickett said. “The paper is my perspective on how politics, culture and dance fit together. We can learn so much about other people by reading, studying and interacting with others, but we really learn more about ourselves.”

Focusing on Bausch’s feelings of isolation, Wickett choreographed Isole, a duet set to Philip Glass’ The Hours.

“It’s what happens between the musical notes and our bodies. Dancers usually have intrinsic physical understanding of rhythm but there is a gap between their ability to verbalize what they are feeling,” said Wickett, who teaches a Dance and Rhythm course at Western. “Musicians are very aware of fine motor skills but most don’t play with their entire body. So, the course is about getting rhythm into the body from different angles.”

Due to Wickett’s innovative classroom work, she has been invited to teach at the World Dance Alliance Conference and Festival in Vancouver this summer. It is a week-long gathering of dancers, educators and researchers from all over the world. She is also pursuing her master’s degree in dance education at the University of North Carolina (Greensboro), which accepts only 10 students every two years.

Before teaching at Western, Wickett taught young people in her private studio, but missed the higher level of technical expertise and theory. Combining her research with teaching university students has rekindled that love.

“Working with the opera in 2008 is how I began,” she said. “Being able to connect with the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy students from all over the world allowed me to combine the theory and practice.”

This led her to delving deeper into the theory.

“I started doing more and discovered I like thinking and writing about dance,” she said. “Educating is just one part of my passion.”