Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring nearly caused a riot in 1913 in Paris. Although the Warwick Arts Centre was full of people buzzing about the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, hardly any riots were seen. Michael Keegan-Dolan's renditions of Rite of Spring and Petrushka were eerily magical and playful. Stravinsky's musical scores are challenging to revisit let alone to choreograph to, however, Keegan-Dolan's modern interpretations were extremely successful in many moments. Filled with contrasts of polished lightness and darkened violence Rite of Spring and Petrushka formed an attractive part of the International Dance Festival Birmingham.

Rite of Spring © Fabulous Beast
Rite of Spring
© Fabulous Beast

The Rite of Spring revolutionized ballet for its usage of parallel feet, jarring jumps and “ugly” characters. The music is technically challenging to dance to and Keegan-Dolan's choreography doesn't allow for sluggish performance. Combining ten male dancers and five female performers was no easy feat but the dancers delivered. In the opening, Olwen Fouéré sang “the poor hare that never done ill”, and then was met by another female performer, Bernadette Iglich, who had the weight of the Grim Reaper. With long flowing hair and a dark dress sweeping across the stage, Iglich maintained hear heavy demeanor throughout the evening. We met the rest of the cast in an image reminiscent of da Vinci's “Last Supper” – a large wooden table at the center, our singer sitting on top of the table and 10 men equally divided to each side. The men were seated, holding brown cardboard boxes while three women were crouching underneath the table hugging their knees. Suddenly, they stood up and walked into the space. The men began dancing in unison; jumps with arms at right angles and fingers similar to typing on imaginary keyboards, the group work was superb. A little later, a sweet trio with three female dancers wearing floral spring dresses, prancing and circling around making their way to the floor was very lady-like; a stark contrast to their later personae which involved massive hare masks matched by animal gestures.

Petrushka © Fabulous Beast
Petrushka
© Fabulous Beast

In order for the Spring to be reborn, something must die. Nudity was Keegan-Dolan's tool for climactic death. Channels of energy were released in Anna Kaszuba's final solo which was arresting while maintaining the choreographer's earthy, frenzied movement. The international cast of men stripping down on stage and gussied up with floral dresses – a clever and efficient way to make a costume change – was a “cheeky” way to choreograph the Pagan sacrificing of Kaszuba's character.

Keegan-Dolan's modern interpretation of Petrushka had a child's dreamland feel. Snowflakes, ladders, white paint and bright lighting captured the playful nature of the original piece. The company, dressed in white starched outfits – a clever match to the swishy movements – danced with a lighter quality. The ensemble's twirls, flailing knees and elbows were skillful examples of the choreographer's imagination. The visually bright piece had several great moments, among them were the slick ways the dancers would reappear with white paint on their faces – a creative method to conjure up and honour the doll characters of the original Petrushka. Another satirical section included the lingering Grim Reaper character, seated on an elevated chair, throwing down what seemed to be black cutouts. The dancers placed the badges on their chests and walked down to the edge of the stage, revealing the black, bold numbers. Seeing all thirteen dancers in a horizontal line looking directly at the audience was reminiscent of a police line up. Suddenly they started dancing and were “eliminated” by the voice from above and I understood that it was an audition of sorts.

Petrushka © Fabulous Beast
Petrushka
© Fabulous Beast

Keegan-Dolan's Petrushka had prosaic moments that could have been revisited or developed a bit further. Many group ensemble sections that were broken by live drumming or the use of spotlights were sometimes confusing and unclear. Occasionally dancers wavered in their commitment to the movement, which was easy to do with Stravinsky in the background. The Rite of Spring has a tense, dark quality that focuses on the nature of sacrifice, greed and power. Petrushka, light and bright, had a sequence of dance patterns that were airy and dreamy. Keegan-Dolan was imaginative and brave with his revisit of these timeless classics.