Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: Jamal Jackson Dance Company to present Utah premiere of 846, contemporary restaging of The Rite of Spring

Next to The Nutcracker,The Rite of Spring, with Igor Stravinsky’s music, likely is the most choreographed piece of music in Europe and the U.S. Since its 1913 premiere, on average, at least one choreographer per year has set a work based on a work that caused a riot following its debut in Paris. Many of these interpretations have tossed the original text that sparked Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography. But.many versions also have softened the original harsh elements in the story, which first sent Parisians into the street following its premiere.

In 1913, Jacques Rivière, a Parisian literary critic, wrote of the premiere that the sacrificed woman never breaks from the sensation of “the personal terror that must fill her soul.”  Rivière explained that “she is absorbed by a social function …and without giving the slightest sign of comprehension or of interpretation, she acts according to the will and the convulsions of a being more vast than she.” In other words, it is the stark acknowledgment of the inevitability of her fate, which should rattle, discomfort and disturb anyone whose conscience is set to rectifying the deep roots of the problems that deny social justice to those who have been made most vulnerable.

Making its first appearance at the Utah Arts Festival, the Jamal Jackson Dance Company, founded in 2004, will present the Utah premiere of 846, which restages and reframes The Rite of Spring, bringing forth precisely the questions raised in Rivière’s first-hand review nearly 110 years ago. The performance will take place June 25 at 6:45 p.m. on the Festival Stage. 

Jamal Jackson Dance Company.

In an interview with The Utah Review, Jamal Jackson explains that 846 was crafted during the pandemic, driven by the conscientious questions raised during the 2020 protests after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, which were committed by police. In the retelling of the work, which was based on a story about Russian pagan ritual sacrifice, we are connected through the themes of our country’s history and in the retelling, the question becomes why does America need to sacrifice Black bodies,” Jackson says. 

Based in Brooklyn, the company sets work blending and fusing movement language and vocabulary from West Africa as well as contemporary American dance as well as hip hop and viral dance trends that have become popular on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.

By Jackson’s description, the contemporary restating suggests a similar no-holds-barred approach that was apparent in the now-lost Nijinsky original choreography. Thee are moments of celebration and joy, as represented in the dance traditions of Mali, which are then fractured by quick surges of aggressive movement and portrayals of trauma inundating the scene. The whole scope of action occurs simultaneously and the other dancers do not even recognize nor acknowledge the body of the dancer lying on the stage. 

The restaging also addresses the nuances of balancing sincere appreciation and cultural appropriation within the context of commodified vulture dynamics that picks apart the body and leaves the remains without any sense of dignity, respect or remorse. The work thus blends in some of the most popular viral Tik Tok dance trends, such as those created by the Nae Nae twins, whose synchronized dance routines have been countlessly replicated and appropriated by other social media users. There also are snippets suggesting double Dutch jump rope movements.

Jackson also says the work encourages ownership by the audience, especially in extending the discussion following its performance. Jackson and the dancers will hold a Q&A following the performance, which will be moderated by Gabriella Huggins of Art Access. “The work is dense and there is a lot in there,” he adds. “It is important to have the dialogue and dig into it because there are a whole of issues in it.”

Jackson adds that the work is staged ideally for presentation either in traditional dance and theatrical venues but also in public spaces and on urban streets. 

The company works with many community and youth programs, including the Berean Baptist Church youth drum line, Performance Spaces for the 21st Century, and Leadership Prep Ocean Hill. The company’s work has been presented at venues including: Mark Morris Dance Center, Jacob’s Pillow, NYC Summerstage Concert Series, DanceNow Festival, Dance Theater Workshop, Battery Downtown Dance Festival, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Brown University, The Brooklyn Museum, Equality Now’s 20th Anniversary, Big Range Festival in Austin, The Yard in Martha’s Vineyard and Performance Spaces for the 21st Century in Chatham, New York.

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