The Cycle of life

Chinese choreographer Yang Liping returns to Israel with a spectacular production of Starvinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring.

Chinese choreographer Yang Liping returns to Israel with  a spectacular production of Starvinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring (photo credit: YIJAN LI)
Chinese choreographer Yang Liping returns to Israel with a spectacular production of Starvinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring
(photo credit: YIJAN LI)
All the smartphones are pulled out from pockets and purses when the people begin to pour into the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow before the premier of Yang Liping’s new work Rite of Spring. It is impossible to resist the urge to capture the stunning scene on the stage – where 12 beautiful dancers meditate sitting in a lotus position, their eyes “wide shut,” with doll-eyes painted on their shut eyelids.
Yang Liping has created her version of Stravinsky’s famous work Rite of Spring, which has sparked the imagination of so many choreographers since its premiere in 1913.
In Yang Liping’s hands, the Russian pagan tale of a fertility ritual, which includes the sacrifice of a young girl, becomes an erotic and mesmerizing tale with a Buddhist flair.
The production combines the pagan tale with Buddhist philosophy and original Chinese music.
Liping (61) received global recognition many years after she became a household name in China, with her dance work Spirit of the Peacock.
Local dance lovers were first introduced to Yang Liping last year when she and her troupe came to Israel with Under Siege, a tantalizing contemporary work that retells the historic battle between the Chu and Han forces following the fall of the Qin dynasty in 206 BCE. The stage, lighting and costume design of the visually spectacular piece were created by Chinese designer Tim Yip, who won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his work in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
In the current production, Liping and Yip collaborated again, and the result is artistically and visually stunning. 
As members of the audience find their seats, the show begins softly. A Buddhist monk appears on stage carrying and arranging Chinese characters around the mediating dancers. The large golden characters are arranged patiently by into intricate mandalas, only to be destroyed at the end of the show.
The letters motif was present in Under Siege as well. During the whole work, a woman in white sat at the front of the stage, cutting Chinese symbols from white paper, until by the end of the evening she is buried under a large pile of paper letters. In Rite of Spring, the Chinese characters return to the stage, only this time they are characters used in the Buddhist six-characters mantra, a practice, which liberates bliss.
This is not the only change that the choreographer made. In the original story, the girl chosen to be sacrificed tries to escape her grim fate. But this is not the case here.
“The sacrificial victim in our production welcomes her fate, as it provides her the opportunity to be reincarnated in the Tibetan tradition,” says the choreographer in a talk with journalists after the premiere.
Although intrigued and fascinated by the music, Yang Liping decided to add original Chinese music, by the renowned composer He Xuntian, that envelopes the original score at the beginning and end of the ballet.
“Stravinsky’s piece is only 35 minutes long,” she explains. “This is not enough for a whole evening, so I asked the famous Chinese composer He Xuntian to write opening and closing parts. It was a great challenge for me to create to Stravinsky’s score. The Western audiences know this work very well, but I decided nevertheless to add elements from our culture.”
The Chinese music is hypnotizing but at times feels too slow to the audience that came here anticipating the music they know so well. But when it starts, the familiar tale commences, too.
After the first part of the ballet, as the slow meditative score changes into the Stravinsky’s energetic music, the dancers appear under ultraviolet light wearing long, green fluorescent fingernails that they deploy in order to evoke images of green grass arising from the spring earth, and moving like grass in the gentle spring wind. This focus on fingers is something Yang Liping’s choreography is known for. The choreographer, who nurtures very long fingernails, deploys them in her famous “Peacock” dance. Here the bright green nails show her ability to create original and unforgettable images.
The spring ritual is also about fertility and includes eroticism. In Yang Liping’s version, the stunning male dancer (the only male dancer), is barely clothed. His body entwines with that of the lead dancer, their bodies wriggling and moving to the rhythm of the music as they dance in the mating ritual, until he becomes a lion-god.
In this production Liping chose to collaborate again with the award-winning designer Tim Yip, who designed the stage, lighting and costumes. Yip uses the lighting to transform the center piece – a large Tibetan prayer bowl (or is it a half-moon?) changing its color and shape with the lighting. Toward the end, the sacrificed girl wearing white clothes floats from the golden bowl up to the sky, showered with golden particles that float gently down like snow, giving the audience a moment of bliss. This is another unforgettable moment in a work which is pure and rare beauty. Don’t miss it.