All the Rite moves

Xavier Le Roy faces the music (and sort of dances).

FEEL THE MUSIC Xavier Le Roy finds Stravinsky’s pulse.

FEEL THE MUSIC Xavier Le Roy finds Stravinsky’s pulse. Photograph: Vincent Cavaroc

It may not be an anniversary year, but this weekend Igor Stravinsky’s dissonant, avant-folk masterpiece from 1913, The Rite of Spring, is the subject of a mini rage. As part of Performa 07, two choreographers— the ’60s veteran Yvonne Rainer and the French conceptualist Xavier Le Roy—each take a new look at the robust score. In her quartet RoS Indexical (for dancers Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer and Sally Silvers), Rainer explores ideas of radicalism, attempting to recall the fury that erupted at the original premiere, which, of course, featured a controversial ballet by Vaslav Nijinsky.

Le Roy, who returns to New York for the first time since 2002, offers something completely different with Le sacre du printemps, in which he studies the relationship between gesture and music. A trained microbiologist whose signature solo, Self-Unfinished, is a compelling look at the mutability of the body, Le Roy appears at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. In his latest solo, he depicts not an ever-shifting creature, but a conductor. Inspired by footage of Simon Rattle leading the Berliner Philharmoniker in the bonus portion of Rhythm Is It!, a documentary focusing on a dance-community project in Berlin, Le Roy mimics Rattle’s wildly expressive conducting style. “It’s very interesting that when I get feedback, very often people say, ‘Oh, I always dreamed to do this!’ or ‘I was doing this as a kid in front of my stereo,’ ” he says, laughing, in a phone interview from Brazil. “And me? I never had this dream. It really started with the movie.”

Not that Le Roy admired the actual documentary, which reinforces, as he notes, “preconceived ideas about what dance is.” In his new work, the choreographer picks the music apart. Standing before an “orchestra” (the instrument-free audience), the lights on all the while, Le Roy reenacts the mood of the shifting tempos with passionate gesticulation. Speakers are placed under the seats, thereby isolating the instruments and, in a way, turning those in the audience into musicians.

“My access to the work is very much through the music,” Le Roy says. “I read some analyses of the composition and listened to a lot of different versions from many orchestras,” he says. He also studied dances that have been presented over the years, including the so-called Nijinsky reconstruction and more recent renditions by Pina Bausch and Maurice Béjart. “But when I saw Sir Simon Rattle conducting the piece, I had the feeling that he was so moved by the music that he was almost initiating or producing it. It made me think that I could see another Rite of Spring

As part of his choreographic research, Le Roy, who has no musical education, “tried to learn music,” as he wryly puts it. He worked with two musicologists, Berno Polzer and Bojana Cvejic (who serve as dramaturgs), and also turned to dance, learning passages of choreography from other productions in order to grasp the complexity of the music. “This helped me to understand the composition,” he says. “I could learn the movement and put it on the music and, through that, get the music.”

The drama of the work is perhaps best realized in the vulnerability Le Roy projects while performing the piece: “It’s very enjoyable, but it’s also very fragile because of the close relationship with the audience,” he says. “The movement is sometimes only directed to one side of the theater or to one person or to a group. At the same time, how the audience reacts to what I do is perceivable and visible for me all the time. I am affected by this—it can put me offtrack but it’s also what makes the performance so intense. You dive in. There are performances where there’s always a place for a certain kind of distance—you can step in and out, and the performance has its own rhythm depending on how you start it. With The Rite of Spring, that is impossible. You have to really go through it.”

Xavier Le Roy presents Le sacre du printemps at the Baryshnikov Arts Center Thu 15–Sat 17.