The light and dark of human nature: Sasha Waltz’s Sacre

Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin
June 27, 2019

Veronica Posth

Sasha Waltz’s Sacre is an evening shaped on three choreographic interpretations of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy, Scène d’Amour by Hector Berlioz and Le Sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky. Three creations that, in different ways, have been developed in an animalistic, carnal, visceral key showing multiple facets of human nature and giving space for alter egos to emerge.

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune gets a very contemporary interpretation. Costumes recalling beach outfits of the sixties help the dancers’ arches and torso twists to be seen, especially when in silhouette. Dynamics of matching and mating appear and dissolve. Stretched limbs as the performers lay on the floor recalls the languor of idle beings resting while time passes. It very much recalls a very warm summer day, making the piece particularly appropriate to the present.

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Sasha WaltzPhoto Bernd Uhlig
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Sasha Waltz
Photo Bernd Uhlig

The heat makes the going slower. Time and movement stretch even more. There are a few faster moments as the scatty animals move from one place to another but often they just lay on the floor, shrug and observe what’s around them. It’s calm, placid. The figures take their time as they move over the music’s rhythms. Similarities between animals and humans again come to mind, and how, in many circumstances, behaviour is so alike.

The evening continued with Scène d’Amour to music from Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, itself inspired by a performance of Shakespeare’s play the composer saw in Paris.

It’s a delicate, passionate and sensuous duet. Lorena Justribó Manion is airy, graceful and delicate as a feather in the wind while Joel Suárez Gómez is robust, sturdy and attentive. Beautiful moments abound as Waltz oscillates between the loving dynamics of the duo. He is enchanted by her allure; she is fascinated by his tempting presence and enticing manner.

Sasha Waltz's Scène d’AmourPhoto Stylianos Tsatsos
Sasha Waltz’s Scène d’Amour
Photo Stylianos Tsatsos

They may be lovers, but its platonic rather than carnal, at least until the kiss that releases something sparkly and poetic, and that gives space to more intimate movements, and lots of lifts and catches. There are several tender moments too, until she leaves the stage (a metaphor of her death, perhaps), abandoning him in the darkness.

Le sacre du printemps, a tribute to Stravinsky music, is ferocious, undaunted, carnal, vigorous, chaotic. The piece is characterised by explosion after explosion, just as is the music masterpiece.

Waltz’s scenario follows Stravinsky’s in depicting various primitive rituals celebrating the arrival of spring, when a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. Twenty-eight dancers of all ages generate a vivid turbulence. Single figures are hardly recognisable due to the multiple bodies in motion, and often entangled. Men and women gather in groups while others move in very physical duets. There is alarmism, fear and perturbation. Shakes, throws, lifts, jumps combine in a scattered vortex of drama that keeps the audience engaged. The two most remarkable moments are the sudden and unexpected sexual coupling between exhausted bodies lying on the floor, and the nudity of the victim who dances with virtuosity and agony until the forces of life abandon her.

Sacre, with its emphasis on distress, tension and anxiety, comes in stark contrast to the serenity of Faune and the soothing love of Scène. Combining them in one evening reveals superbly the light and dark of humanity, and moments from real life.