ABOUT A THIRD OF THE WAY into Yvonne Rainer’s AG Indexical, with a Little Help from H. M., which premiered at Dance Theater Workshop’s “Sourcing Stravinsky” program in the spring of 2006, the dancer Sally Silvers rolls a television monitor onto the floor. Watching it, she tries, comically, to imitate the saraband of George Balanchine’s Agon. Thus Rainer showed her audience how she remade Balanchine’s late-modernist ballet—by depending on video documentation instead of a dancer’s kinesthetic memory. It’s worth noting that the saraband is danced by a male dancer in the original, which uses “four boys and eight girls” in a suite of baroque dance forms updated in Stravinsky’s serial score. Rainer, for her part, worked with four women (only one of them a ballet dancer, the others modern), the same four who are now dancing her RoS Indexical. It takes all four of them to dance Agon’s pas de deux: The three modern dancers support the ballerina, manipulating her body into the choreography’s extreme extensions. When the dancers return to the opening quartet (“four boys”) to end the ballet, Rainer makes a characteristically goofy substitution: Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme for Igor Stravinsky’s original fanfare.
DTW’s “Sourcing Stravinsky” program included a lobby wall chart of the many versions of Stravinsky’s ballets. The list for The Rite of Spring included, following Vaslav Nijinsky’s, versions by Léonide Massine, Lester Horton, Mary Wigman, Maurice Béjart, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, Glen Tetley, Pina Bausch, Angelin Preljocaj, and Shen Wei. And now Rainer. Not surprisingly, she changes the rules of the choreographic game, and she does it, again, with television. The Rite of Spring is famous for all sorts of reasons—Stravinsky’s rhythmically pulsating polytonal score, Nicholas Roerich’s primitivist sets and costumes, Nijinsky’s pigeon-toed, thumping dance steps. But Rite is more famous still for the scandal it caused. It has become the cliché of the avant-garde work as shocking to its audience, such a cliché that the BBC made a docudrama about Rite’s sensational opening night replete with jitters backstage and jeers out front. Rainer’s substitution of the TV program’s sound track for Stravinsky’s music as RoS Indexical’s score signals her intention to mock the hallowed status the scandal bestowed on the ballet. Still, the music is audible over the ruckus, and Rainer’s dancers replicate enough of what we know of the original choreography to make it clear that RoS Indexical is also an homage—to Nijinsky, to Millicent Hodson’s scholarly reconstruction of his choreography, and to the Joffrey Ballet and Finnish National Ballet dancers who have made it comprehensible. But Rainer has no stomach for the primitivist fantasy of the Chosen One, a virgin whose sacrifice supposedly guarantees the stability of man and nature. Could this be why?: When Massine’s 1930 version of Rite premiered in America, Martha Graham danced the Chosen One, about which she later said, “I’ve always felt that if you become an artist, you are the Chosen One.” Aargh!

Rehearsal for Yvonne Rainer’s RoS Indexical, Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, 2007. From left: Sally Silvers, Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, and Patricia Hoffbauer. Photo: Paula Court.

ROUGHLY TWO YEARS ago I was in London visiting a friend who, for some reason, had recorded this BBC dramatization called Riot at the Rite (2005), a fictionalization of the making of The Rite of Spring. All the characters in the historical episode appear in it, from Stravinsky and Roerich to Nijinsky, and the story culminates on that night in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris—with the dance performed for the BBC version, remarkably, by the Finnish National Ballet. The perspective cuts back and forth throughout between the stage and the riotous audience, which is fictional here, of course, but attempting nonetheless to replicate the tumult that ensued when people first heard the music and saw the very unexpected dancing. Watching this, I was so turned on by the program’s score: I thought, My God, I want to make a dance for the Rite using this sound track, with

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