Friday night's triple-bill at the Staatsoper involved three works more often heard nowadays in the concert hall, but here paired with the choreography of the celebrated (and aptly named) Sasha Waltz. Two of these pieces had earlier incarnations as dances: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was first conceived for the Ballets Russes, and Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune had been adapted by the same troupe during the composer's lifetime. Both of these ballets had famously scandalous premières in the early 20th century, and even in our largely unshockable age, Waltz's bold new scenarios for this music had its daring, uncomfortable moments. 

Sasha Waltz's <i>Faun</i> © Bernd Uhlig
Sasha Waltz's Faun
© Bernd Uhlig

Waltz's Faun, which opened the program, had its première in this run of performances. Unlike the original choreography of the famous Nijinsky (captured on screen in performances starring the equally celebrated Nureyev) no one dancer was the centre of the action here. Rather, the focus of interest shifted from group to group, with several alternative dramas happening for the eye to rest on at any one time (something of a Waltz trademark). The poem by Mallarmé which inspired Debussy describes a half-remembered sensual encounter, and this was rendered visual here by two lovers writhing briefly before the evocative opening flute solo broke the silence. The choreography was perhaps most successful when the dancers’ slow turns and up and over attitude-sque movements matched the overall languorous mood of the music. By contrast, the brief convulsive frenzies were not always coordinated obviously with equivalent activity in the surrounding music. In contrast to the seemingly heterogeneously coloured tight singlets worn by the cast, lighting was evocatively used, especially the red filters at the 'end' of the afternoon.

The Scène d'amour from Berlioz's dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette was never intended to be enacted on stage, but it worked very well in this new guise (after all, as Berlioz's contemporary friend and rival Wagner argued, all instrumental music has its origins in the rhythms of dance.) After the 2014 Faun, Waltz's 2007 treatment of this Love Scene felt almost classical.

Scène d'Amour © Bernd Uhlig
Scène d'Amour
© Bernd Uhlig
A literal pas de deux, it began with the approach and initial exchanges leading into a series of stylised interactions symbolising their love and ended with her running off as he sank into a reverie. At one point there was even a tiff, quickly succeeded by renewed tenderness. While traditionally the woman would have been on pointe, here both dancers were barefoot. Nonetheless, classicism can be observed in the choreography, with embraces reminiscent of classical ballet 's supported turns, and perhaps also in the costuming - Emanuela Montanari's dress approximated the older flowing ballet garment, though her partner Antonino Sutera was in loose grey sweat pants and t-shirt. Even in their ovations the pair respected the older decorum, whereby the male hangs a little back while the ballerina curtseys directly at the footlights.

The Rite began on a misty set, with a small mound of stones in the centre of the stage, which was soon trampled and scattered. Clad in simple drab-coloured tunics, the cast jerked exactly in time to the famously unpredictable accents of the 'Dance of the adolescents'. A sense of opposition between the genders was strongly brought out in the 'Abduction games'. Compared with her treatment of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Waltz intruded far less on the continuity of Stravinsky’s score: the only obvious alteration was just where the Sage kisses the earth, when the music stopped and an orgy with every conceivable permutation took place. This interruption was mercifully brief, and during the 'Dance of the earth' which followed, the prostrate crowd roused themselves in stages, stretching ever higher in what seemed to be an effective evocation of flames. 

The orchestra, directed by Domingo Hindoyan, was generally reliable, although there were some sour moments apparent in the Introduction to the second half. Visually memorable moments in this second half included the women being held up in crucifixion pose by the men, and, more especially, the final 'Sacrificial dance'.

Waltz's <i>Sacre</i> © Bernd Uhlig
Waltz's Sacre
© Bernd Uhlig
During the latter a spike descended from the flies, which caused this viewer to anticipate a horrific final impalement of the female protagonist. Thankfully, the needle ended in the ground, in a symbolic act of penetration which aligned neatly with the fructifying effects of spring. The 'chosen one', who was seemingly unaware of her fate at the start of the number despite having been reclad in a sacrificial purple dress earlier, performed her sacrifical dance with abandon, screaming at one point and stripping stark naked for the crescendo leading to her final collapse. It was an appropriately in-your-face ending to this most visceral of ballet scores.

***11