Ever since the Ballets Russes' 1913 premiere of Stravinsky's discordant The Rite of Spring sparked a riot in the theater, dance figures from Pina Bausch to Béjart to the Joffrey Ballet have revisited that famously shocking piece of music. So many variations already exist that one wonders why anyone would create another. But someone has, and it's a good one: Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen's multimedia, butoh-influenced solo, HUNT.
Rite "…was not my first choice," Saarinen admitted, just prior to his company's West Coast debut. But like others before him, he couldn't resist what he called Stravinsky's fundamentally human themes: "For me, The Rite of Spring is the most cruel and the most powerful of Stravinsky's works. Its primitiveness is frightening, but yet it is somehow fascinating in its apparent simplicity. I feel that it is really, above all, music of the unconscious. It lures out humanity's brutal, animal sides, just at the time when they are seeking to achieve a sacred state."
In HUNT, the shock comes less from the music (which is still plenty bracing) than from the pyrotechnics created by Finnish multimedia artist Marita Liulia and lighting designer Mikki Kunttu. Saarinen, shirtless, is first illuminated by the warm glow of footlights; later, pops of strobe catch him in midair and beams ripple across him like garments. With well-articulated musculature, he spins, jumps and gestures, pausing briefly to quote Nijinsky in The Afternoon of a Faun.
The piece is a highlight in a triple bill that demonstrates Saarinen's facility with difficult music and themes, his technical prowess (he's a butoh-trained former member of the Finnish National Ballet) and his heritage. The other pieces are Wavelengths, a lyrical and combative duet with a repetitive electronic backing, and Westward Ho!, a trio for stoics, set to a plaintive hymn. All the pieces feel cool and dark, and not just from the "mental landscape" that he and Kunttu designed. "I am sure that we are both heavily influenced—consciously and unconsciously—by Finnish nature and geography," he said. "Things like the extremities of the midnight sun in the summer and the overwhelming darkness of the polar night in winter."
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 790-2787. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Oct. 29. $20-$50.