Before the World Shut Down, a ‘Rite of Spring’ on a Senegal Beach

By Marina Harss

Standouts in dance streaming this week: “Dancing at Dusk,” Olivier Tarpaga, Mark Morris and ballet class with the Cindies.

Luciene Cabral in “Dancing at Dusk” — Pina Bausch's “The Rite of Spring,” performed in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal.
Luciene Cabral in “Dancing at Dusk” — Pina Bausch's “The Rite of Spring,” performed in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal.Credit...Polyphem Filmproduktion

Many of us have a clear image of the moment just before the world was shut down by the pandemic. A last trip, or carefree evening with friends, or a performance in a darkened theater, forever frozen in time. On March 14, 38 dancers from across Africa were in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, at the École des Sables, rehearsing Pina Bausch’s harrowing work “The Rite of Spring” (1975). They were to perform it in Dakar later that month, before touring to Wuppertal (the home of Bausch’s company) and London. In the morning, the dancers rehearsed. In the afternoon, they were informed that all public gatherings and performances were canceled for the foreseeable future.

With enviable presence of mind, the filmmaker Florian Heinzen-Ziob, who was documenting the rehearsals, captured a final rehearsal, moved to a nearby beach at dusk. The result is “Dancing at Dusk,” which will be streamed by Sadler’s Wells, a co-producer of the canceled tour. (The film is available Wednesday through July 31 on Sadler’s Wells’ Digital Stage, for $6.50.) The setting is eerily perfect: “Rite” is normally performed on a stage covered in dirt. Here dancers move within a large square of sand on a vast beach, with a stripe of sea, and the pale blue sky, behind them. Over the course of the 35-minute piece, that sky turns slightly pink, then a shadowy purple.

The dancing is convulsive and self-lacerating — but also beautiful, and at times tender. The performance has the raw energy of something that hasn’t yet been rehearsed to synchronized perfection, and that looseness adds to the piece’s immediacy. As the light dims and the figures become less distinct, the dramaturgy of the piece and the drama of the moment — the final evening before a planet-wide intake of breath — become one.

ImageFrom left, the dancers Olivier Tarpaga, Aziz Derme and Ousseni Dabare in Mr. Tarpaga’s “Declassified Memory Fragment.”
From left, the dancers Olivier Tarpaga, Aziz Derme and Ousseni Dabare in Mr. Tarpaga’s “Declassified Memory Fragment.”Credit...Mark Simpson

Before the pandemic streaming boomlet, I didn’t know the work of the Burkina Faso-born musician and choreographer Olivier Tarpaga. I missed his “When Birds Refused to Fly” at the Crossing the Line Festival last year, and now I’m kicking myself. His “Declassified Memory Fragment,” which will be streamed by the Joyce Theater Foundation, Thursday through July 31, is an extraordinary, distilled piece of music and dance. As the title suggests, it conjures fragmented memories, images and stories, often from childhood, gathered and transformed through movement and music by Mr. Tarpaga, three fellow dancers, and four musicians.

Much of the piece deals, indirectly and impressionistically, with the political landscape of post-colonial Africa, particularly Burkina Faso, Kenya and Ivory Coast. Mr. Tarpaga is concerned with how political instability — and in particular a series of violent coups — deform people’s perceptions of power, and their relations with each other. All the dancers are men because “this is a critique of a situation created by men, vying for power,” Mr. Tarpaga said in a phone interview from Philadelphia. (He splits his time between Burkina Faso and Philadelphia.)

The stories are not represented literally. Two men who share a single jacket, for example, may look like dancers engaged in an absurd, friendly duet, but Mr. Tarpaga said, they represent certain leaders’ tendency to share power as a way to subvert the democratic process. Still, you don’t need to know the subtext to be intrigued by the way the men negotiate the ownership and subdivision of the jacket.

The four musicians, sitting on one side of the stage, play in a variety of styles, encompassing African traditional and contemporary urban music. (Mr. Tarpaga composed the score as well as the dance.) At times, a musician enters the dance arena, singing or playing directly to a dancer. A honey-voiced griot sings in a traditional style as a man writhes at his feet, like a broken doll. In their interaction there is pain and mystery, and the sense of worlds colliding.

Mark Morris in “Dad’s Charts,” performed at Westbeth in 1980.Credit...via Mark Morris Dance Group

If you never had the chance to see the young Mark Morris dance live (I didn’t), now is your chance. The Mark Morris Dance Group has posted a sampler of three early works, introduced by the choreographer, on its “Dance On! Video Vault.” “Dad’s Charts,” the oldest, is from his first program of dances, performed at the Merce Cunningham Studios at Westbeth in 1980. It’s astonishing to see the long-limbed Mr. Morris in motion: simultaneously floppy and incredibly precise, he is able to go from the air to the floor in a microsecond, only to pop up again. “Charts,” the first piece on the streamed program, was a semi-improvised, tongue-in-cheek tribute to his father, who died when Mr. Morris was a teenager. It’s set to the kind of loopy music for electric organ that Morris Sr. like to play of a Saturday night. It’s funny. And it’s sad.

Roof barre: James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston, teaching on Ms. Boylston’s roof.Credit...#thecindiesballetclass

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, friends and colleagues at American Ballet Theater, are known as the Cindies. The duo are irrepressible Instagrammers, with a refreshingly playful attitude toward each other and the art of ballet. Their Instagram ballet class, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. Eastern — accessible through Ms. Boylston’s account — takes place at her kitchen counter (and sometimes on her roof), to whatever music they have at hand.

Between barre exercises, the two poke fun at each other and chat about their lives. Often, they bring in guests to teach. On Wednesday, Courtney Celeste Spears of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will give a class devoted to the technique developed by Lester Horton, Ailey’s teacher. (It’s easy enough for beginners, she assured me.) And on Friday, Mr. Whiteside will be joined, from Texas, by the stylish young Ballet Theater dancer Erica Lall. You can follow along from home with a chair or just make a sandwich and enjoy the repartee.