Dance or theatre? Raimund Hoghe’s Sacre – The Rite of Spring is unclassifiable, and so an apt opener for the new Spill Festival of experimental theatre, which is dedicated simply to “performance”.
Still, the dance element is strong: the piece communicates largely through movement and music. Its ingredients are deceptively simple: two men and a recorded score. But that score is Stravinsky’s iconic Rite of Spring, its crashing sonorities and palpitating rhythms rarely matched for sheer physical effect. And the men? Hoghe is tiny, middle-aged, hunchbacked, his deformed spine apparent beneath his formal clothes. The other is tall, young Lorenzo de Brabandere, casually athletic in track bottoms and T-shirt. Put the two together and there is already drama.
Yet Hoghe does not dramatise. The expressionless performers simply enact repeated, ritualistic movements. Their many mirrored gestures set up an elusive equivalence between them, despite their physical differences. They balance against each other, or face each other like reflections, their joined palms circling as if wiping a mirror – or window – that divides them. When the balance of power tips, it is usually towards De Brabandere: he lets Hoghe fall, lifts him upside down, pushes him along the floor.
In a recorded interview that frames the piece, Stravinsky himself says he was a “vessel” for the music. Hoghe’s Sacre is also a kind of vessel. It feels opaque, even hollow, and the performers’ bodies are as mask-like as their faces; yet turbulent images and feelings keep pouring out.