The Rite of Spring

When Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus first saw Stravinsky’s Rite, he was reminded of his religion’s initiation ceremonies. Now, he has created his own spirited version of the ballet

Since its infamous premiere in 1913, there have been many reimaginings of the Nijinsky/Stravinsky ballet The Rite of Spring, but never before as a vodou initiation ceremony. Forget sticking pins in dolls and other horror-film cliches, vodou – not voodoo, note – is “a religion like any other”, says choreographer Jeanguy Saintus, a practising vodouist and the man who powers contemporary dance in Haiti with his company Ayikodans.

Saintus draws on the rituals of vodou in his first UK commission, for Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre. His Rite of Spring will be performed in a double bill with Opera North, accompanied by their orchestra. Saintus was tentative at first, having never worked with a classical orchestra, but he felt a surprising link between this story of pagan Russia (the ritual sacrifice of a “chosen” girl to the gods of the harvest), and the roots of his own culture.

“When I saw The Rite of Spring for the first time I was sitting in a theatre in Berlin, yet I was back home at the initiation ceremony. All the processes they do for the Chosen One is the same thing as when the loa [vodou spirits] decide to possess you.” The vodou initiation, called a kanzo ceremony, is the equivalent of a baptism, with song, dance and spirit possession that may send participants into a trance. Can you tell me about your own initiation? I ask Saintus. “Nooo,” he laughs warily. “This is something very personal.”

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