The Cult of the Rite

March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

From Wikipedia:

In the specific context of Greek hero cult, Carla Antonaccio has written, “The term cult identifies a pattern of ritual behavior in connection with specific objects, within a framework of spatial and temporal coordinates. Ritual behavior would include (but not necessarilly be limited to) prayer, sacrifice, votive offerings, competitions, processions and construction of monuments. Some degree of recurrence in place and repetition over time of ritual action is necessary for cult to be enacted, to be practiced”[1]2

To what extent can we view the 20th, and now 21st century, practice of recreating, performing, and witnessing The Rite of Spring, this faux ritual suicide, as a cult? How does our 100-year practice of reenacting this mythical rite (or refusing to reenact it by changing key aspects of the original libretto) satisfy Antonaccio’s criteria for cult worship?

The latin root of the word cult, cultus, means “care” or “adoration.” Lovers adore/care for one another every day in countless gestures. Similarly, worshippers care for the values they hold dearly by practicing devotion to deities or other forces that embody or otherwise represent these values.

Note to self:  could easily devote multiple sets of 12 to this topic. Non-stop writing for 12 minutes at a time is a mainstay of my current writing practice.  Is it devotional? Let’s ask Antonaccio.

1 Antonaccio, “Contesting the Past: Hero Cult, Tomb Cult, and Epic in Early Greece”, American Journal of Archaeology 98.3 (July 1994: 389-410) p. 398.

2 I like the brief etymology presented here. Would be good to cross reference with some others.


The red thread of Barmen

March 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m sitting in Café Moritz, in a chair identical to those in Bausch’s Café Muller. That piece is often described in the context of the cultural confusion and shock in the aftermath of WW2, which is the context in which Bausch grew up as the daughter of café owners. I don’t know how this café compares t the one where she grew up, but it might be pretty similar.

While sitting here in the part of Wuppertal known as Barmen, I happen across a description of the Declaration of Barmen, 1934, and the dedication of a new synagogue on the campus of a local church. In angry response to Hitler’s ongoing efforts to bring the church under state power, church leadership met in Barmen to articulate their rejection of Hitler’s policies regarding the church. Their statements was called the Declaration of Barmen and it inspired church resistance activity throughout Germany. Resistance churches called themselves the Confessing Church, in contrast to the pro-Nazi German Christianity. Pastors were jailed, put in concentration camps, and executed for opposing the state.

One essay I found described the actions of the pastor of Barmen’s Gemarker Church on the Sunday following the Kristallnacht pogrom (November 9 1938) which destroyed the lives and property of Jews in Barmen no less than elsewhere in Germany:

Pastor Karl Immer stood before the congregation–not wearing his    cassock–and said that a few hundred meters away from the Gemarker    Church God’s word had been burned. He was referring to the    destruction and burning of the Barmen Sheurenstrasse Synagogue.    Because of that he said he neither could nor would preach. He    simply wanted to read two Bible texts. And he read the ten    commandments in their original form and the parable of the Good    Samaritan, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said, “Those who have    understood the meaning of these texts are invited to join me in the    choir vestry afterwards.” There were about 40 to 50 members of the    congregation. With forged passports we did then manage to get a    number of Jewish citizens out of Germany. (1)

Alongside this description of bravery, heroism, and generosity, the article makes a point of not excusing the gross omission of the treatment of Jews from the Declaration of Barmen in 1934.

“Those who gathered in Barmen in 1934 found no words against the putting into place of the persecution of the Jews. Karl Barth, one of the “fathers” of the Barmen Declaration, later confessed that it was a sin to not have made the Jewish question a decisive issue for the Kirchenkampf, or at least to not have done so publicly.”

This omission is called “the missing seventh Barmen Thesis.”

Sitting here in this traditional café in central Barmen after rehearsal for Bausch’s Sacre, I cannot help but draw connections between these various threads.  How does the Sacre relate to this city in which it was created, and the bodies that created it? Bausch was born into a world ripped apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually, a world where people were trying to make sense of the atrocities they had committed, atrocities both in deed and by omission.

What about the neighbors on that November night in 1934? How might their experience of fear and dread have mixed with relief that they were not the chosen ones to have their livelihood destroyed and the contents of their homes thrown into the street? How relieved were they that it wasn’t their cousin, brother, child being kicked to a bloody pulp right before their eyes? Or perhaps it was. How might this extreme upwelling of emotion have prevented them from taking action on behalf of their neighbors? How can one act against a mob without becoming collateral damage? Contemporary Indian cinema is full of images of the extraordinary mob violence that accompanied the end of British rule and which eventually resulted in the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh along religious lines. There is no question of intervening in a tidal wave. Stepping in front of a mob armed with machetes is suicide.

What about the double downward pulse that the crowd repeats throughout her solo, or as an invitation or invocation of her solo? Are they egging her on? Are they reconnecting with the earth from which they all have come and to which she will return, sooner than they? Are they shaking off their own emotional overload – guilt, shame, relief, fascination, etc.

Bausch created Café Muller in 1978, three years after her Sacre.  How do they connect? Perhaps two attempts to solve the same puzzles.  Wim Wenders acknowledges that he and Pina shared a cultural context and that their artistic visions each grew out of an attempt to make sense of the post-apocalyptic nature of the times in which they lived.

Wenders had met the choreographer when her company performed two of her masterworks, Café Müller and The Rite of Spring, in Venice in 1985. They felt an affinity, he confirms, in part because they were both children of disconsolate, recovering post-war Germany.

These two iconic Bausch pieces were presented together in 1985, the year following a lecture by Eberhard Bethge celebrating the Barmen Declaration while simultaneously faulting its framers for omitting their responsibility to their neighbors, the Jews. He calls for a “reappreaisal of the reasons why no clear statement was made in the Barmen Declaration on the issue of the persecution of the Jews” and calls upon the community to rectify this violent act of inaction. Bausch’s Sacre, created in Barmen in 1975 and continuing to circulate now partnered with Café Muller steps into this conversation.  Of course, Bausch refused to discuss the meaning of her work, so much so that the very idea of asking her about meaning makes longtime collaborator Mercy laugh: “With Pina, it was no help to ask her. She liked to be surprised. She liked misunderstandings when what emerged was incredibly beautiful. I never felt the need to ask things.” (Jays, 2) Her collaborators are generally adamant that discussing the meaning of her work “would [betray] their maker, who squirmed when asked to explain her creations” (Jays, 2)

Bethge calls for an “actual act of encounter”. Encounter with the previously ignored, the previously unseen, unspoken. What do we encounter when we see the Sacre? Our own past, our own ghosts. What do the bystanders witnessing the dance of the chosen one encounter? Encounter the divine. The offering becomes sacred and thus we encounter the divine. Think about examples of sacrifice which require extensive ritual activity in order to create the conditions for encountering the divine.




What’s in a name?

March 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

[this entry is in process]

The piece with many names.

The original Russian name was not used at the world premiere of this piece.  I’m curious how Diaghilev and his collaborators landed upon the particular translation they used in French, and at what point they began referring to it by its Russian name. I wonder how they referred to it among themselves. Go back to the Diaghilev biography for clues in their correspondence between Stravinsky and Diaghilev. Of course the name could have changed monikers at any point and probably at many points in its life even within this one company: after Nijinsky, during Massine’s tenure, after Diaghilev, etc. And of course different people likely referred to it with different names. At the time the collaborators were mostly Russians fluent in French and thus fully aware of the different implications of its differing names in those two languages. How fluent in French were they actually?

Other than Paris the only other place that the original piece played was London, thus requiring an English name. I wonder how they came up with the English translation and how fluent the translators were both with language and with the piece.

German: Fruhlingsopfer

Opfer in Google translate…

Opfer, Geschädigte, Verunglückte
Opfer, Opferung, Verzicht, Opfergabe
Opfer, Gabe, Opfergabe, Kollekte, Vorstellung
Opfer, Opfergabe
Beute, Opfer, Raub
Opfer, Unfallopfer, Verletzte, Todesopfer, Verunglückte, Verwundete

Sacrificial Subjectivity

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Andre Lepecki concludes his Exhausting Dance with an extended inquiry into Marcia Seigal’s indictment, “Dancing exists at a perpetual vanishing point.” His thought experiment explores the implications of this vanishing:

Under Siegel’s framework, the dancer’s years of training, of conditioning the body and mind for the fleeting moment of dancing, are but the embracing of a sacrificial subjectivity, the creation of a particular mode of being-in-the-world that would  amount to nothing more than a lifetime of rehearsing and performing endless successions of living-burials. (125)

Lepecki calls on Bergson and Deleuze to expand our notions of temporality, memory and perception in order to help dance studies “extract itself from its melancholic entrapment at the vanishing point.” (131) [how/explain]

To what extent does our ongoing fascination with the Sacre grow out of such a “continuous anticipated mourning and reiterated retrospective melancholia?” Are we so haunted by our own mortality that it comforts us to see death simultaneously conquered and victorious? Does it satisfy our curiosity to pretend that we could possibly battle death and survive?

Stephan Brinkmann’s recent monograph using the Sacre to explore the process of accumulating body memory may refute this disappearing act. I’d like to make a case for the durability of embodied experience. Neuroscientist Paul Bush is building a model of the brain based on his contention that all the brain is ever doing is repeating patterns. These patterns are mutable, but they are also durable, as durable as any human organ can be. It might be possible to argue for a durability that outlasts a single human organism based on the memories and patterns we accumulate from others, perhaps something like cultural memory.

Neuroscientist Rita Venturini and I recently discussed Greenberg Method and the concept of “bodily artifacts.” Neuroscientists use the term artifacts to discuss bodily movements related to the neurological processes under study. Is our ongoing return to this enduring story an artifact of our fascination with our own mortality?

Rite of Spring as Community Event

January 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Seattle’s Velocity Dance Center is hosting a fundraising event titled The Rite of Spring.  The event is described as:

An elegant evening celebrating the revolutionary spirit of experimentation and collaboration of the Ballets Russes and the Centennial of Nijinsky’s “crime against grace” The Rite of Spring.

Doors open at 6:30PM

Invitation emailed January 26, 2013

Invitation emailed January 26, 2013


December 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Gazing is how The One is chosen in Pina Bausch’s Sacre. Gazing is how the young women engage the audience before their fierce panty dance in Preljocaj’s Sacre. Gazing is also how his Chosen One reclaims her power in the last moments of that piece.  The Gaze of the Chosen One in Nijinsky’s Sacre is riveting. How many minutes does she stand there frozen with eyes gaping?  What are we to make of all this looking? Can we think about it in relation to a healing gaze?

Gazing is the method of celebrated healer Braco, and the subject of Will Johnson’s Rumi: Gazing at the Beloved: The Radical Practice of Beholding the Divine. Johnson describes the process of intentional gazing for healing:

When eye contact between two people is initiated and maintained, an invisible energetic circuit is established between the participants, dissolving the barriers that ordinarily separate them from each other, drawing them ever closer into a shared sense of union.(1)

Professional skeptic Karen Stollznow argues against Braco’s work in her article, “Braco the Gazer,” for Skeptical Inquirer, the online journal of the Society for Skeptical Inquiry.(2)


1. Johnson, Will. 2003. Rumi Gazing at the Beloved – The Radical Practice of beholding the Divine. Vermont USA. Inner Traditions.


Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis

September 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Belgian choreographer and set designer Stijn Celis (bio) created a highly stylized world of vibrant green rectangles through and over which his dancers perform his Rite.

Originally created for his dancers in Bern, Switzerland, using a score for two pianos, Celis’ Rite is also in the repertory of Cedarlake Contemporary Ballet Company. In 2012 he created a new version with live orchestra for les Grands Ballets Canadiens (Gradimir Pankov, artistic director). La Presse published this article by Aline Apostolska about this new version (read on La Press site):

Les Grands Ballets canadiens: sacré printemps!

Aline Apostolska, La Presse

Après Noces et Cendrillon, le chorégraphe Stijn Celis revient aux Grands Ballets canadiens de Montréal avec Le Sacre du printemps. Une vision inédite où il revisite un incontournable du ballet contemporain, histoire de fêter dignement le retour du printemps.

Vaslav Nijinski est un mythe de l’histoire mondiale de la danse. Deux des ballets qu’il a créés au début du XXe siècle, pour les Ballets russes, Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune et Le Sacre du printemps, sont restés des références que nul ne peut ignorer. Le Sacre du printemps, inspiré de la Russie païenne sur la musique d’Igor Stravinsky, créé le 29 mai 1913 au théâtre des Champs-Élysées, à Paris, véhicule depuis lors un parfum de scandale.

Pourquoi? À cause de sa charge délibérément libidinale qui n’en finit pas de fasciner les chorégraphes qui, tour à tour au cours du siècle, se sont mesurés à cette oeuvre monumentale. Des chorégraphes, et pas n’importe lesquels, de Mary Wigman à Maurice Béjart, de Pina Bausch à Paul Taylor, d’Angelin Preljocaj à Mats Ek et Marie Chouinard, plus d’une dizaine de versions ont achevé de rendre l’oeuvre mythique et, du coup, le défi encore plus élevé.

C’est au tour de Stijn Celis. Le chorégraphe belge met lui aussi en mouvement son interprétation de l’oeuvre de Stravinsky, sur la musique duquel il avait déjà créé Noces. Une belle aventure, osée et magistrale, qui est aussi la seule création originale de la compagnie en ce printemps 2009.

L’envers des apparences

«Comme toujours, je suis parti de la musique, raconte Stijn Celis. J’ai moi-même dansé Le Sacre pour le Ballet Cullberg, puis j’ai créé une première version du ballet pour deux pianos pour ma propre compagnie à Berne (Suisse). Gradimir (Pankov) a vu cette version et m’a proposé de créer une oeuvre complètement différente pour les GBCM, cette fois avec orchestre. C’est toujours un défi très tentant.»

Celis est un chorégraphe subtil, inspiré de lectures philosophiques et porté vers une lecture de l’envers du décor, des oeuvres, et des êtres. Il cite Spinoza et Jung autant que le roman d’Horace McCoy They Shoot Horses, Dont’ They?, dont Sydney Pollack a tiré un film en 1969, pour dire les influences intellectuelles et artistiques qui ont accompagné cette dernière création.

Chez Celis, l’analyse collective et la critique sociologique sont présentes. Noces offrait une critique du rituel social du mariage, Cendrillon plonge dans la complexité des rapports d’identification mère-fille. Le thème de la polarité masculin-féminin est toujours présent: «Le geste est l’expression originelle de l’être, dit-il, moi, j’utilise la danse pour révéler l’inconscient personnel et collectif.» Disons, sans nous attarder, que son parcours familial lourd – la douleur de la vie de sa mère, de sa soeur, le suicide de son père -, lui a donné le goût, et la capacité, de lire derrière les apparences. Appliquée à la danse, cette sensibilité singulière rend ses pièces fascinantes et pleines de rhizomes de sens qu’il transmet au spectateur par la gestuelle.

Le sacrifice de la différence

Quand on s’attaque au Sacre, on doit faire des choix. Il y a la force de la musique, sa rythmique, son accélération progressive et palpitante, ses deux thèmes païens qui sont l’adoration de la terre et le sacrifice. On peut aborder le tout de façon métaphysique, ou narrative, concrète ou abstraite, mettre en avant ou non la charge sexuelle. «La force libidinale est évidente, dit-il, je n’ai pas voulu la doubler. Je me suis concentré sur le rythme et sur le geste. J’ai évité les scènes d’accouplement comme on en voit toujours dans Le Sacre. Et j’ai voulu beaucoup de beauté, une grande épure pour qu’on ne voie pas que le discours social.»

Discours social qui pourtant existe. Chez Celis, le sacrifice est celui que la société formatée impose à quiconque voudrait imposer son individualité, son imperfection, voire sa folie. Souvent dans Le Sacre, la femme incarne à la fois la terre-mère et l’objet du désir. Dans son Sacre, elle est l’objet du rejet, parce que socialement plus vulnérable. «Le printemps, c’est le retour du soleil, dit-il, mais ceux que le soleil n’éclaire pas sont à l’ombre, rejetés. Pour solidifier l’identité du groupe, celui-ci éjecte ceux qui sont incompatibles. Néanmoins, j’ai exalté ici le triomphe du cycle, du changement, auquel nous sommes tous soumis. C’est la pulsation de la vie, qui se rejoue éternellement.» Cette création de Stijn Celis dure une trentaine de minutes et en deuxième partie de soirée, les GBCM reprendront l’oeuvre de Shen Wei, RE-,II.

Le Sacre du printemps, de Stijn Celis, et RE-,II, de Shen Wei, pour les GBCM, du 26 au 28 mars, et du 2 au 4 avril, au Théâtre Maisonneuve.

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