New film captures Yale staging of ‘The Rite of Spring’

A new film by director Habib Azar captures the performance of the ballet “The Rite of Spring” by the Yale Dance Lab and the Yale Symphony Orchestra.
Yale Dance Lab ensemble

(Photo by Chris Randall)

Igor Stravinsky’s seminal ballet, “The Rite of Spring,” famously caused an uproar when it debuted in Paris in 1913. Stravinsky’s dissonant score and Vaslav Nijinsky’s staccato choreography struck a nerve and even provoked rioting in the Paris streets.

More than a century later Stravinsky’s masterpiece still inspires artists and audiences. Earlier this year, the Yale Dance Lab and the Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO) partnered with the Schwarzman Center, the university’s hub for student life and the arts, to restage the ballet with new choreography by Emily Coates, the Dance Lab’s founder, and Lacina Coulibaly, a lecturer and artistic associate with the program.

Its debut performance, in February, was the first creative work produced at the university to be staged at the Schwarzman Center and the production is the first-ever collaboration between the Yale Symphony Orchestra and a campus-based cocurricular dance initiative. The two performances staged that day were warmly embraced by those lucky enough to attend the sold-out run.

A new film of the live performance captured by seven-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Habib Azar is now available online.

Yale Symphony Orchestra in front of the dark stage in Yale Commons.
(Photo by Chris Randall)

We were incredibly fortunate to have Habib Azar direct the film,” said Emily Coates, a professor in the practice and director of dance studies in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with a secondary appointment in the Directing Program at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale. “We were extremely happy with the live production, and this film takes that work into the stratosphere. It is a gorgeous film, not merely a document of the performance, but a work of art in its own right.”

Azar, a regular director for the series “The Metropolitan Opera Live” and “Live from Lincoln Center,” captured the creative energy of music and choreography in tandem. “His innately rhythmic editing allows viewers to experience the entire performance from a multitude of perspectives,” Coulibaly said.

A female dancer lunging into a crouched pose.
(Photo by Chris Randall)

We had cinematic aspirations,” Coates added, “and Habib achieved them.”

The film, and the live performance it portrays, embody the sorts of high-caliber artistic collaboration with undergraduates that make Yale unique among its peer institutions, William Boughton, the YSO’s musical director, said.

Habib was a brilliant choice to direct the film and the result is extraordinary,” Boughton said. “It can serve as a great recruiting tool in that it offers potential students a strong sense of the artistic opportunities and collaborations that are available to them at Yale.”

The choreography of “The Rite of Spring,” (“Le Sacre du Printemps” in French), has been reinterpreted frequently over the past 110 years, liberating choreographers to produce their own interpretations of Stravinsky’s score.

Coulibaly, a dancer-choreographer born in Burkina Faso, brought a unique perspective and dance background grounded in West African choreographic expression. His collaboration with Coates, a former New York City Ballet dancer with a background in neoclassical ballet and American postmodern dance, allowed both artists to fuse their backgrounds and differing styles into a new, modern exploration of Nijinsky’s historic work.

A group of dancers leaning their heads back while stepping forward.
(Photo by Chris Randall)

We have a long history of intertwining our aesthetics, having collaborated since 2007, but we’ve never done a project so ambitious, which is why we started developing the material more than a year before the debut,” Coates said.

For inspiration the choreographers drew on maps and travel images from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, tracing transnational networks of cultural exchange across time to meditate on planetary crises and care.

The dancers’ commitment to the process shows in their strong performances in the final work,” Coulibaly added.

Yale Dance Lab is a faculty-directed, co-curricular arts research initiative that aims to promote community, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and activism through dance at Yale and beyond. The initiative also provides students the chance to work with guest choreographers and dance world luminaries, including Yale’s own dance faculty.

The YSO is an extra-curricular club typically composed of about 80 to 90 undergraduate musicians, a mix of serious and hobbyist players, that rehearses twice weekly and performs six concerts every academic year.

To watch the film, visit the Yale Dance Lab’s YouTube channel.

Three dancers with outstretched left hands
(Photo by Chris Randall)
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