Airings: Choreographer David Shimotakahara talks about the community approach to his new ‘Rite of Spring’ production


David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of ballet and classical music’s most beloved and controversial masterworks, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps). Both Igor Stravinsky’s brilliant and avant-garde score and Vaslav Nijinsky‘s modern ballet choreography redefined music and dance at the outset of the 20th-century. In the process The Rite, and its tale of a pagan human sacrifice ritual, upset and outraged audience members and critics alike when Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes premiered the ballet in Paris in 1913.

In the subsequent century since its premiere, the ballet has taken on legendary status and has been reinterpreted by dozens of choreographers and dance companies whose productions have challenged and delighted audiences across the globe.

In a dance season chock full of even more new productions of the ballet to celebrate its centennial, Cleveland-based GroundWorks DanceTheater joins forces with the Akron Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director and conductor, Christopher Wilkins for the world premiere of choreographer David Shimotakahara’s Rite of Spring, Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Hall.

Here is what Shimotakahara, GroundWorks’ artistic director/choreographer, had to say about the new work:

Steve Sucato: How did this project come about?

David Shimotakahara: It was an idea the Akron Symphony had and they wanted us (GroundWorks DanceTheater) to help them realize a community-based project around the celebration of the centennial of The Rite of Spring.

SS: What is GroundWorks’ role in the project?

DS: We’ve been engineering how this would all develop. We decided we would try to create a student ensemble to perform with GroundWorks and the symphony. We auditioned 100 students from all over the Summit County (Ohio) region choosing 16 for the ensemble ranging in age from  10 to college age. We also added 3 professional dancers from community to perform with GroundWorks for a total of 24 dancers involved in the project.

SS: What was your approach to using the student ensemble?

DS: I had to really think hard how that could happen and what dancing the student ensemble would be involved in. I think I solved that so that the students are going to have a real dance experience.

Student Ensemble working with choreographer David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

Student Ensemble working with choreographer David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

SS: How has it been working with the students?

DS: Absolutely wonderful. They are focused and really trying to do what I am asking of them. The music is quite complex in places. I don’t think any of them thought they could count the score but we’re doing it.

SS: What was your overall vision for the work?

DS: I looked at the original Joffrey Ballet recreated and a lot other versions of the ballet and arrived at the decision I wasn’t going to try to recreate the original. The idea of the sacrifice of a young maiden to appease some gods did not appeal to me. I took a different approach and tried to create a scenario where the young woman is less of a victim of the circumstances.

SS: How so?

DS: I tried to approach it from the perspective that she was self-selecting in a way that made her different from the community. For me that was a starting place in thinking about how to deal with the score. It was more about the idea of individual will or choice and that tension that always exists between individual choice and group think.

SS: Describe her.

DS: She is a metaphor for individuality. I think of her as “the other”. She is trying to exercise a choice in her own way and it is ultimately rejected and she is ostracized by the group. If there is any story to follow in my interpretation that would be the outcome.

SS: Is the production set in our time?

DS: It is not set in any time or place. It is what the dancers represent in terms of community, the collective will or the status quo. Anywhere where the group takes precedence over the individual.

SS: Audiences often come to productions of the Rite of Spring with certain expectations about the main character.

DS: It won’t be entirely foreign to audiences. Even if she is not a victim she is singled out. I just didn’t want her to be chosen against her will rather she is found alone by circumstance and remains that way. I think the idea of rebirth and hope in the human spirit is really what the rite of spring is about and that somehow that can be constantly passed on and taken up. The assertion of your own will in the face of odds is something I think everyone can relate to.

Student Ensemble working with choreographer David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

Student Ensemble working with choreographer David Shimotakahara. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

SS: Tell me about the movement for the ballet?

DS: I tried to find a movement vocabulary that represented the group that contrasted with the movement of “the other”. For me, the feeling and the shape of the movement for the work came right out of Stravinsky’s music.

SS: You mentioned this is your first time doing a Rite of Spring. How has the experience been?

DS: It has been an interesting creative exercise for me. I have welcomed the challenge. After all, how often do you get to create a Rite of Spring and have it performed with a 100 piece orchestra?

GroundWorks DanceTheater and the Akron Symphony Orchestra perform the Rite of Spring, 8 p.m., Saturday, April 13, E.J. Thomas Hall – The University of Akron, 198 Hill St., Akron, OH. $22-52. (330) 535-8131 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/050048D5DF77C2C9?artistid=839501&majorcatid=10002&minorcatid=203.

Also on the program, the ASO will perform Dvorak’s Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 88/B 163.

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