Although Pina Bausch’s famous Rite of Spring piece (or Le Sacre du printemps) is typically performed indoors, on a stage covered in soil – the artists featured in the Dancing at Dusk film run the piece on a sandy beach in Senegal. The cast of African dancers was meant to perform Bausch’s iconic work at a variety of venues, the travel restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus halted their planned tour. So, the dancers filmed their final rehearsal, which was renamed Dancing at Dusk and shown by Sadler’s Wells theatre for the entire month of July 2020.

Dada Masilo is an artist from South Africa, who choreographed a Giselle set in South Africa for her company of black dancers – and the Dance Theatre of Harlem produced Creole Giselle, also performed by an entire cast of black dancers.

A woman holds a pink cloth as others run behind her on the beach
A female dancer clutches a pink cloth in Senegal École des Sables’ production of Rite of Spring.
Photo credit: polyphem Filmproduktion

École des Sables Le Sacre du printemps

Rite of Spring was set on École des Sables dancers from 14 African countries for an international co-production between Sadler’s Wells (UK), Pina Bausch Foundation (Germany) and École des Sables (Senegal). The École des Sables was founded in 1998 by Germaine Acogny, widely considered the “mother of contemporary African Dance,” and offers professional training for dancers in both traditional and contemporary African dance styles. The school also encourages collaboration between artists within Africa and around the world – such as this performance of Le Sacre du printemps.

Dancing at Dusk was directed and edited by Florian Heinzen-Ziob and produced by Polyphem Filmproduktion. Enno Endlicher served as the cinematographer.

“Bringing The Rite of Spring to the beach and shooting it just after sunset was a spontaneous reaction to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was the last moment of being together within a crisis surrounded by uncertainty – a moment of strength… but also [fragility]…”

– Salomon Bausch, Pina Bausch Foundation Executive Director
A man arches and jumps back in front of a pink bougainvillea tree
Mohamed Y. Shika at Ecole Des Sables jumps in front of a pink bougainvillea tree.
Photo credit: Abdoul Mujyambere

Dancing at Dusk Screendance Review

A woman lies belly-down at the beach, on a shockingly pink scarf. From far away, passersby might mistake her as a sunbather on a beach towel. Through the lens we watch her languish in the sand – which infinitely stretches away to the horizon. We also see the wind catch and play with the other dancers’ fluttery garments, as Stravinksy’s eerie melody pricks our ears. The woman drops the cloth and woodenly walks away; but it still has a role to play on this auspicious day.

The cluster of female performers stands in close formation and completes the same full body gestures, but they don’t exude the sense of urgent desperation as  Wuppertal Tanztheater Pina Bausch’s dancers. (To be fair, they didn’t have as long to settle into the choreography – or Bausch herself directing them, even though Josephine Ann Endicott was a prime Artistic Director in her stead.)

However, their emotions show more strongly as they partition into smaller groups and express themselves individually. One woman faces the camera while her body judders – like seismic waves wrack her from the inside out. There’s an honesty and openness in her performance.

A man stands behind a woman and they both solemnly gaze down
Gloria Biachi and Serge Arthur Dodoc gaze down in Dancing at Dusk – École des Sables’ production of Pina Bausch Rite of Spring.
Photo credit: polyphem Filmproduktion

It’s a shame that the insufficient natural lighting obscures the movement and expressions of the men when the camera is far away. It makes the dancing look flat and one-dimensional. Still, the male performers dance strongly, powerfully jumping high off of the shifting sands. The choreography and staging does tend to focus on the women, though.

The ritual sacrifice selection process unfolds as individuals emerge from a group of cowering women. They tentatively approach the man who holds the fuchsia cloth and bury themselves back into the group as soon as they are free. Surprisingly, there’s little drama when the one-man selection committee grabs the victim’s arm – but a frenzy breaks out after, and the men roughly toss their female partners side to side.

The human sacrifice, now wearing the magenta garment, holds her arms stoically at her sides. She hunches forward in despair, but a slow, resigned head roll elicits a new determination that carries through until the end.

Star Rating:

Dance writers covering the École des Sables Rite of Spring were requested to review the film as a rehearsal. So glossing over a few slip-ups from their first time performing on sand and some filming choices, Dancing at Dusk is a beautiful production on expressive black performers; and the dancers gain conviction in their new seaside environment as the piece goes on.

Pina Bausch Rite of Spring 'Dancing at Dusk' Pinterest Pin
Pina Bausch & Ecole des Sables 'Dancing at Dusk' Pinterest Pin
Pian Bausch & Ecole des Sables 'Dancing at Dusk' Pinterest Pin

Have you seen any live productions or filmed performance of Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du printemps? Or how about Vaslav Nijinsky’s original Rite of Spring choreography? Let us know in the comments below!

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