Since Nijinsky, Roerich, and Stravinsky’s riotous 1913 premiere of La Sacre du Printemps, or Rite of Spring, it has been re-imagined hundreds of times. Some are abstract, some create new narratives, some adopt feminist themes. Inter-media artist Klaus Obermaier has made it multi-dimensional.
Following a first half of Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat major and Piano Concerto No. 27 with esteemed pianist Emanuel Ax at the keys, you can visually step into Obermaier’s 3-D Rite of Spring with the Houston Symphony this weekend. In a production of Brucknerhaus Linz and Ars Electronica Futurelab, the symphony still features prominently in a web of visual projections with a single dancer (Yuka Oishi) set apart stage right.
“This version is really fundamentally different from anything you’ve seen of Rite of Spring,” Obermaier said. "It was always a kind of mass ballet, you always have lots of people on stage. We don’t need to look at a girl being sacrificed by other girls, which is kind of a third-person feeling.”
In re-imagining his Rite, Obermaier focused on how technology could alter a setting of sacrifice.
“So the sacrifice is not for the spring or the harvest, today it’s must more a sacrifice for new technologies,” Obermaier said. “By new technologies I mean what will happen to us in the future will be lost in new technologies, kind of disappear in new technologies. The piece is played in a modern theme, but in a much more modern way of thinking. The sacrifice is not anymore for the spring or whatever should happen, but what new technologies will bring.”
Obermaier, who has long worked to transform dance through different media, such as his interactive and uncanny Dancing House, felt that approaching Rite of Spring was not a shift from his body of work, but an expansion of his ideas.
“The big difference with this piece is everything that you see on stage is created by the dancer herself, drawing virtual environments that she later appears in,” Obermaier explained. “The 3-D environment is highly influence by the orchestra, these instruments then interact in real time, and it is different every evening, no show is the same as the day before.”
Rite of Spring’s premiere more than a century ago was notorious because of its unexpectedly violent aesthetic across the media it engaged with—choreography, set design, and of course, Stravinsky’s score, which opens with one of the hardest but most serene bassoon solos before embarking on a harsh journey of grating and piercing sounds. But it wouldn’t have been an infamous premiere if it weren’t for the audience’s reaction to it—people who yelled, threw things, and stormed out in protest. You’ll not going to find anything like that in Obermaier’s revisioning, because his design pulls the audience into the act and makes everyone culpable.
“Imagine everything created by the performer herself, it’s a very interactive scenery where things are playing together in a much stronger way than in a traditional dance performance,” Obermaier said. “We are so much closer to the performer than before. Sometimes we have the feeling we can touch her and she can touch us.”
Emanuel Ax Plus The Rite of Spring 3D, May 18–20. Tickets from $23. Jones Hal, 615 Louisiana St. 713-224-7575. More info and tickets at houstonsymphony.org.