To Hunt Or Be Hunted: (W)Rite Into A Legacy

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth broadly traces the choreographic legacy of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and her relationship with it


Vaslav Nijinsky’s Rite, with music by Igor Stravinsky, opened at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Departing from the Ballet Russes’ usual aesthetic, Rite was filled with earthbound stomping, pagan Russian rituals celebrating the arrival of spring, and the sacrifice of a virgin girl, “The Chosen One”. The Observer called Stravinsky’s composition “musical impertinence”.

Riots. Raucous audience members left halfway through the piece. Rite continued.

Dominique Porte in Marie Chouinard’s Rite of SpringMarie Chouinard


Between the explosive premiere and 1920, Nijinsky left the Ballet Russes, and Rite faded into obscurity. Sergei Diaghilev, artistic director of Ballet Russes, wanted to revive the piece in 1920, but the dancers had forgotten the choreography—a tragedy of the ephemeral form. A number of choreographic giants composed their own Rites, exploring unique movement languages and tweaking the infamous narrative. Leonide Massine, Mary Wigman, Maurice Béjart, Pina Bausch, and Martha Graham stand out in this rich legacy. 

In 1987, The Joffrey Ballet performed a reconstruction of Nijinsky’s work. Lived recollections, sketches, and photographs brought back into existence a work that was thought to have been lost.

At some point closer to 2013, I learned about The Rite of Spring. I watched some of it online but was unable to grasp the cacophony of sound and the strange, primitive movement. I didn’t like it. 


A century after its opening, The Joffrey Ballet performed the Rite revival at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts. Reluctant towards the sensorial assault I knew awaited me, I went to the show because I was given a free ticket. Unlike in my first brief encounter with the piece, I stayed through the end. I can’t say I liked it, or even tolerated it, and I left feeling chaotic and irritated.


The following year, I decided to see the Martha Graham Dance Company, to cross it off my bucket list. Without checking what they were performing, I booked tickets. When I got to the theatre, I realised to my absolute horror that Graham’s Rite was on the bill. I could not believe I had to see/hear it again; I was not ready for it so soon. But I held my breath and took the plunge.

The haunting opening melody meandered through my mind like an earworm before the real thing enveloped me. While most of my visual memories of Graham’s Rite have faded, I remember taking home more feelings of expansiveness than the violence that had accompanied my previous visits with Rite.


Since 2013, I have realised that Rite has a way of finding me even if I do not want to be found. At the beginning of the Attakkalari Biennial I saw that Compagnie Marie Chouinard was performing Rite

Of course. 

Rather than resist it, I decided to write. My desire to grapple with the work wasn’t founded in any positive passion for it, but an almost masochistic need to suffer through and make peace with it. 

The morning before CMC’s performance, I attended the Poetics of Technology in Performance Conference. At the conference, Finnish dancer and choreographer Tero Saarinen spoke about his use of technology in performance in reference to his signature solo, Hunt. Guess what music he used?


In an informal discussion later on, I spoke to Tero about what drew him to Stravinsky’s symphony. “I was initially reluctant to use such an iconic piece of music but I felt that the themes I was exploring were reflected in the music. There is a messiness and innocence in it. I had to do it!”, he explained. 

There are many layers in Tero’s explorations—the duality of masculinity and femininity, the information overload in modern life, hunting and being hunted, and self-sacrifice. His rendition echoes themes from Nijinsky’s work and the music itself. Interestingly, in Tero’s solo, we do not see the literal sacrifice we have come to expect in the Rite discourse. Instead, he argues that the act of performing on stage is a form of self-sacrifice. “You invest so many years of research, and the audience just gets a small glimpse of the work”, he said. 

CMC’s Rite, made in 1993, marked Chouinard’s choreographic entry into modernity. But Chouinard doesn’t use the music in a novel way. Her interpretation is balletic and predictable. We see the music in the dancers’ bodies—their movemens mirror rises and falls in the sound. . Apparently, during Nijinsky’s premiere in 1913, the jeering from the audience was so loud that the dancers could not hear the music. At Chouinard’s performance on the other hand, the music swallows the dancers whole, and the dancers’ lukewarm act was no match for the power of the music. 

Chouinard’s Rite looks too polished; it is clear that she intended for her dancers to reach a feral quality in their movement, but they never quite arrive. From my past experiences with Rite, I expected to leave with feelings of tumult and a raw earthiness, and I was disappointed by this rendition's sterility.

So why do people continually return to this controversial work? On one hand, choreographers work with Rite because the multi-layered, atonal, arrhythmic music strikes a discord in many. There is so much yet to be discovered in the score. Stravinsky’s music is an entry point into the avant garde work that pioneered experimental work in the twentieth century. People who choose to tackle it probably see it as a “rite” of choreographic passage, a way of acknowledging origins. The intentions of choreographers are undoubtedly varied, but speaking with Tero about his connection to the work confirmed these possibilities.

In the near future, TBD

Looking back at my (primarily) chance viewings of Rite, I find that the work follows me around. Our subconscious minds take us back to work that affects us in some way, whether we want to return or not. In my case, the feelings of chaos and dissonance are almost addictive. Rite will probably spring up unwittingly on me sometime in my near future— unpredictable and dissonant, in true Stravinsky fashion, Rite will seek, and continue to be sought after.

Dayita Nereyeth is a dancer and writer currently based in Bangalore. She enjoys performing, conducting research on the mind and movement, doodling, and watching cooking competitions.

TABLE of Contents
Curtain Call:
After the Biennial

During the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017, within the Writing on Dance Laboratory, we had several conversations about dance—its making, its reception, its impact, its sensations, its politics. Watching every performance at the festival, and attending conferences, screenings, and other festival events, the Lab participants received a broad view of festival happenings. That holistic perspective and those many conversations are reflected in Ligament’s final issue on the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017. Through the each of the participants’ different experiences of different events, we are left with pertinent questions about dance that might be worth considering after the festival has ended, through all the dance we watch in days to come. Why do we watch dance? Why should we write on dance? Are there many ways to write? And when dance makes us feel something, anything, what questions do we ask of it?

— Poorna Swami, Editor

To Hunt Or Be Hunted: (W)Rite into a Legacy
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth broadly traces the choreographic legacy of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and her relationship with it

The Visibility of Edges
Ian Abbott

Dance writer and producer Ian Abbott considers the edges of touch, authenticity, and repetition in two performances

All The Pillars That Hold Up The Ceiling Resonate A Different Sound
Parvathi Ramanathan

Dance and writer Parvathi Ramanathan looks at the individual and the ensemble in contemporary dance practice

Front Row At The Bench India Conference

Swar Thounaojam

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam looks at the optics around women choreographers in contemporary dance through Centre Stage performances and a conference at the Biennial 2017

Rhythm in the Body, Rhythm of the Mind
Himalaya Gohel

Dance researcher and PhD student Himalaya Gohel examines two works to investigate our notions of melody, music, and movement in contemporary dance

ShowReel : While We Strive
Darshan Manakkal

Dancers Revé Terborg, Audrey Apers and Ivan Ugrin from The Netherlands presented While We Strive, choreographed by Arno Schuitemaker, on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : This Is The Title
Darshan Manakkal

Finnish choreographer-performer Ima Iduozee presented This is the Title on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Westward Ho!
Darshan Manakkal

Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company presented Westward Ho!, choreographed by Tero Saarinen, on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Man in a Room
Darshan Manakkal

Finland’s Tero Saarinen presented Man In A Room on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Conditions Of Carriage
Darshan Manakkal

Chennai-based choreographer Preethi Athreya and the Jumpers presented Conditions Of Carriage on the closing day of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Isshh(क)
Darshan Manakkal

Bangalore’s Attakkalari Repertory Company presented Isshh(क), choreographed by Swiss choreographer Nicole Seiler, on the closing day of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017


To pick up and run with a magazine that has had another life is never easy. There are those conflicting desires to find close continuity and to just scrap it all and start anew. Ligament 2016-17 reemerges from a half-way point. We want to build on the investigations and insights of the magazine’s past contributors and also find ways to say what they perhaps had wanted to say but could not, or forgot to, in that moment.

Ligament was founded to facilitate the articulation of an evolving language that encompasses the impulses of contemporary dance. The idea of “contemporary” is inherently bound to time, to a sense of history, rather multiple histories unfolding. In its 2016-17 iteration, we hope that Ligament can grapple with the idea of how dance might hold a place in-step with the patterns of active and forming histories, rather than remaining a canonised and pondered response to a bygone world. We’d like to embrace the immediacy of “contemporary”, and invite contributions from dancers, choreographers, arts practitioners, scholars, audience members, readers. In this way, we hope to reach for the intimacies, resistances, and fragilities that permeate the developing field of South Asian contemporary dance.

Articulating a medium as visceral, visual, and ephemeral as dance requires making connections to methods of thought and critique that lie outside evaluative language. So for Ligament 2016-17 we welcome, of course, the critical essay, but also audio, photographs, ekphrastic poems, interviews, and hybrid media of various kinds that might speak to us about dance, carefully and proximately. Like the anatomical connective tissue for which it is named, Ligament, we hope, can help us locate dance in tandem with the many bodies that produce and encapsulate it.

To those who find themselves here for the first time, welcome. And those whom we have met before, we are glad you are back.

—Poorna Swami, Editor

Get in touch with us at ligament@attakkalari.org