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'Rite of Spring' falls short

Montreal dance troupe lops off prelude, filmic imagery, cool costumes.

Some audience members said they were in shock and awe after Compagnie Marie Chouinard's opening-night performance Thursday of

Rite of Spring

at the Annenberg Center, as the Montreal company began its first visit to Philadelphia in 17 years.

But after seeing Chouinard's Rite in Phoenix in 1996 and longing to see it again all these years, I was just in shock. It was so unlike the original, my favorite of many Rites I've seen.

Company agent Paul Tanguay said audiences at a planned appearance in Shanghai in October will see the original, with the white- and tan-colored leotards and Rober Racine's 12-minute prelude, Sound Signatures. But we get a bargain-basement version, without the Racine or the costumes.

The brilliant original use of Racine's score evoked prehuman, insectile life, repeated visually by the angular, torso-undulating choreography. Here, Dance Celebration's program notes said his score would extend Igor Stravinsky's work to about 50 minutes. Asked why these changes were not mentioned, Tanguay said that some audiences didn't like the Racine and that it made the performance too long.

Also excised was the beautiful imagery of the early version, in which each dancer appears as a film projection in a pillar of light, a luxuriant illusion that falls away as when wind whips across a reflecting pool's surface. This time, the dancers squirmed into raw illusions that had their bodies seeming to break into fractals or spiral into DNA.

Still, there were many moments of awe: Leon Kupferschmid's feral jetés, Mariusz Ostrowski and the others using their hands like cleavers to sculpt the air around them. Lucy M. May in the opening solo was jaw-dropping with her bent-knee, flexed-footed running in place.

Perhaps Chouinard took her cue for the osculating curvatures of the bodies which barely touch, much less kiss, from Stravinsky's opening bassoon solo, "Kiss of the Earth." It imparted a slimy fluidity as the dancers pecked and goose-necked at each other in this rite of annual renewal that occurs without thought or sentiment, only the primal urge to be.

The program opened with the flamingolike walking of Megan Walbaum and Valeria Gallucio in 24 Preludes by Chopin. To Chopin's famous Prelude in E minor the full company in lineup passed one upright woman back and forth by her waist. As three women rotated their arms, a flickering light made them look like a silent film. Throughout, quivering, splayed hands conjured a Mayan look or brought comedic relief.

In 24 Preludes, the women wore sheer black leotards taped thonglike around the groin and across the nipples. For both topless genders in this Rite, Chouinard recycled the same briefs as worn by the men in 24 Preludes, making for a confusing opening moment.

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