David Wampach Revisits “Rite of Spring”

Vallejo Gantner, the artistic director of PS 122, perhaps the premier NYC home for cutting edge performance, hasn’t forgotten his history. This year is the centenary of one of the defining moments of Modernism: Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreographed by Nijinksi. While the actual hundred-year anniversary of the succès du scandale is May 29, Gantner is bringing a contemporary exploration of the epochal work, by emerging French choreographer David Wampach, to New York this January as part of the 2013 COIL Festival.

Technically, Wampach’s SACRE debuted in 2011, but that doesn’t make its appearance in New York any less timely. Wampach is becoming an increasingly recognized name in New York dance. His BASCULE caught my eye back in 2010 when it appeared, with local performers, at CPR in Brooklyn. In 2012, two of his pieces—AUTO and BATTERIE—were shown at the Queer New York Festival at Abrons. SACRE will be playing in Brooklyn at the Invisible Dog Art Center (Jan. 10-14; tickets free with reservation).

Ivresse,” was Wampach’s one-word (in French) answer to why he was attracted to Rite of Spring. “It’s like drunkenness. The state of getting drunk.”

The attraction to the intoxicating elements of the work make a lot of sense in Wampach’s case. In contrast to the recent legacy of conceptualism and non-danse in French choreography, his movement is attracted to the physical elements of dance. BASCULE, for instance, is a deeply compelling exercise in isolated and sustained movement in repetition, whereas in BATTERIE, a solo movement piece performed with a drummer, Wampach uses the mechanism of a covering his body in shaving cream—a costume that predictably disintegrates into a mess across the stage during the performance—to document the physicality of the movement.

In SACRE, Wampach has translated his response to Rite of Spring into a duet for himself and dancer/collaborator Tamar Shelef. Rather than responding directly to Stravinsky’s score, the pair score the dance to the sound of their own hyperventilating breath, furthering the intensity of the piece’s evocation of physical experience. Wampach has a long history with Shelef, who he met some eight years ago when the pair were dancing for the same choreographer. He’s already choreographed a piece for her (2007’s QUATORZE) and is currently collaborating with her on a film project.

“I really wanted to make a solo for Tamar, and I was really trying to find a body-state, so we were really trying to think about what it means to stand up on stage,” he continued to explain of SACRE’s genesis. “I think it’s something really important in live art to stand up onstage. So the main question was how to stand up on stage, why do we stand up on stage?”