Bruno Beltrão – Grupo de Rua: New Creation

Israel Galván: La Consagración de la Primavera (Rite of Spring)

Sadler’s Wells: 22 & 25 November 2022

In late November, London’s flagship theatre for dance became the venue for two bouts of risk-taking performance.  Bruno Beltrão and Israel Galván hail from different continents and they share a thirst for pushing the envelope of their chosen dance genre: Beltrão (43) formed his own company at the age of sixteen, then known as Grupo de Rua de Niterói (this being his home city in South-East Brazil), which has over the past 25 years progressively developed his peculiar blend of street and contemporary styles presented as conceptual dance theatre; Galván (49) grew up immersed in the art of flamenco, taught by his parents (José Galván and Eugenia Reyes).  Having forged a career as a risk-taking bailaor from the early 1990s, in recent years he has also sought to expand the boundaries of his art through an abstract, conceptual approach to his delivery of complex and explosive footwork.   

An ocean separates the homes of Beltrão and Galván and I don’t know if they are aware of each other’s work but their outlook and inspirations are similar, even if the mode of delivering their concepts and choreography is very different.

Beltrão gives nothing away in his title, which is lazily left as simply New Creation, but there is a counter-intuitive urgency to his ensemble work that has been inspired as a movement polemic against the authoritarian government of Jair Bolsonaro (a man whose comparison to Trump now extends to his disputing the legality of the election that recently unseated him).   The work suffers from laziness in design, too, since New Creation appears so freshly-minted that no-one has yet got around to designing it. The action takes place on a darkened, bare stage with odd flickers of light and – to begin with – a mixture of urban sounds (traffic, building work, drilling etc) occasionally interrupted by the beauty of birdsong.  

The choreography is intense with movements that range from expressing anger and violence to anxiety and grief.  One felt that each section of movement has a meaning but it was invariably opaque:  it became less so only when performers retreated to the pure street dance punctuations of head spins and power moves.   Nonetheless, in just an hour of performance, there is enough novelty in Beltrão’s  choreographic structure and movement style to convince that here is a major international force in the creation of powerful new dance (just so long as the next piece isn’t called New Creation 2)!

There have been hundreds (if not thousands) of attempts to choreograph Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring to the extent that one wonders what further value can be squeezed out of it.  Unlike Beltrão, Galván uses the title to signpost his Hispanic concept for La Consagración de la Primavera; but if we are expecting tradition, either in terms of flamenco or spring ritual, then Galván has other ideas.    

Stravinsky’s 33-minute composition is wrapped within two other pieces of contrasting music – separated in composition by three centuries – in Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K87 and Frederic Rzewski’s protest song, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.  Galván shared Michael Keegan-Dolan’s approach to choreographing The Rite of Spring by using Stravinsky’s own piano reduction for four hands, arranged to assist in the rehearsal process for Nijinsky’s original ballet.   But, that similarity apart, nothing about Galván’s performance shared anything in common with any other interpretation.  He weaved accents of flamenco throughout the music in an extraordinary solo performance of remarkable endurance both of dance and percussion, his body becoming as much an instrument as the pianos so sensitively played by Daria van den Bercken and Gerard Bouwhuis.  Using both his feet and hands on a variety of platforms set around the stage, Galván tapped out the complex rhythms with an unwavering focus.   

A line of kinesiology tape down one calf seemed indicative of the stresses inherent in the performance but any reason that required such muscular support and protection had no impact upon an extraordinary athletic performance, delivered through powerful, fleet footwork.   Where other choreographers have taken the imagery of a tribal ritual as their touchstone for the movement, Galván has found something new and innovative in his unique visual interpretation of the musical structure itself.  The result is both remarkably pure and powerful.   

© Graham Watts

photo credit: Wonge Bergman – Bruno Beltrão’s New Creation