Harris Theatre for Music and Dance – A Night to Remember

Ecole des Sables, The Rite of Spring
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It was October 27, 2022 and opening night at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance was filled with the positive energy of anticipation, having waited two years for this historic event.  For only two nights, common ground (s) choreographed by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo and The Rite of Spring choreographed by Pina Bausch thrilled the Chicago dance scene.

Doppelabend Fruehlingsopfer, Foto Maarten Vanden Abeele c PinaBauschFoundation

This was a Chicago first originally scheduled for May of 2020 and then cancelled because of the COVID – 19 pandemic.  During the reception prior to the performance, I had the privilege of speaking with several people from the dance world including several people from Joel Hall Dancers & Center;  Joel Hall, Artistic Director Emeritus, Jacqueline Sinclair, Artistic Director, William Gill, Assistant Artistic Director. Joel Hall spoke about the company’s new facility for teaching and performing while William Gill advised that one would better enjoy the performance watching with a blank slate and no expectations, and just enjoy.

Over time there have been many choreographers who choreographed dance to Igor Stravinsky’s music, but few had as profound an impact as that of Pina Bausch.  Lori Dimun, (Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols President and CEO Endowed Chair, the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance), quotes Pina Bausch who stated, “I’m not interested in how people move, but what moves them.”

She also said that, “A co-production of Ecole des Sables, the Pina Bausch Foundation, and Sadler’s Wells, this project has been driven by collaboration and cultural exchange from the start.  The significance of the project can’t be overstated- with 36 dancers assembled from across Africa to dance and an international  tour spanning three continents, it represents only the third time that transmission of Pina’s Rite has occurred with a company of dancers other than her own, and the first time this seminal work will be experienced in Chicago”.

There was some talk about the difficulty of getting visas for the group so they could tour. Meghan McNamara, Vice President of Programming and Audience, Harris Theater for Music and Dance shared .. “Regarding the visas, while artist visas are always a time intensive process, this project came with the added complexity of a group of 40+ people from nearly 20 countries, that was also actively touring during the process. So, in addition to filing all of the petitions and supporting material, we had to organize visa embassy appointments for everyone during a short window while they were in Paris. A truly international team effort, and so worth it!”

Germaine Acogny, Malou Airaudo common ground[s](credit Maarten Vanden Abeele)

The program began with For common ground(s) with Co-Choreographers and Dancers, Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, Composer, Fabrice Bouilon LaForest, Costume designer Petra Leidner, Lighting Designer Zeynep Kepekkii and dramaturg Sophiatou Kossoko.

In this work two women who have previously danced The Rite of Spring, two women who are up in years with many common life experiences gently move through these shared experiences in dance.  The lighting was remarkable as was the music.

Germaine Acogny, Malou Airaudo_common ground[s](credit Maarten Vanden Abeele)

Intermission at this point allowed a crew of about 17 people to prepare the stage for The Rite of Spring. Some audience members were transfixed watching the floor covered, three huge containers of peat wheeled in and dumped onto the floor, followed by men and women with rakes and hoes working the dirt until it was spread evenly and packed down, ready for the dancers.


The Rite of Spring first appeared in the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes company with  the original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich. When first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 29 May 1913, the avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a sensation.

It is noteworthy that the music of Igor Stravinsky achieved recognition as a concert piece and is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

The Rite of Spring with choreography by Pina Bausch, music by Igor Stravinsky, original set and costume design by Rolf Borzik with collaboration by Hans Pop which had its World Premiers on December 3. 1975 at Opera House Wuppertal began. This experience was intense and compelling. The dancing almost defies description – athletic, balletic, frightening, powerful and unforgettable. Bausch imagined The Rite of Spring as a sacrificial ritual, in which a group of young women and a group of young men collide, scatter, thump, roil and grab, until one girl is chosen to wear a red dress and dance herself to death.

Ecole des Sables, The Rite of Spring, (credit Maarten Vanden Abeele)

Everything about this performance; the costumes, the set, the music, kept the audience at the edge of their seats until the final moment when the girl in the red dress after dancing frantically finally collapses. And then we could finally take a breath and applaud as the audience did for several standing ovations.

Germaine Acogny, Malou Airaudo common ground[s](credit Maarten Vanden Abeele)

As this company tours the world, anyone who sees this can consider themselves very fortunate.

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