South African choreographer Dada Masilo – known for fearlessly deconstructing classical ballets – brings her latest creation, The Sacrifice, to Milton Keynes Theatre this month.
The Sacrifice is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a powerful but rhythmically complex score for a one-act ballet about the sacrifice of a young virgin. Honoured as ‘the chosen one’, she is compelled to dance herself to death during an ancient ritual that is performed to appease the gods of spring.
Masilo’s interpretation is danced to an original musical composition, which is played live, and her daring choreography fuses Botswana’s traditional Tswana dance with earthy contemporary dance. Tswana is rooted in storytelling and often used in celebrations and ceremonies. It incorporates uniquely expressive gestures and energetic movements. Accordingly, dance fans and inquisitive theatre enthusiasts alike should expect an engaging, exhilarating performance.
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has become something of a rite of passage for choreographers. When it was written, for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, the avant-garde score seemed to contradict every rule in music. Vaslav Nijinsky, the original risk-taking choreographer, must have had an inkling that there might be a bit of a ruckus in response to this ballet! Indeed, the undanceable music and anti-balletic movements sparked a riot at The Rite on opening night – the audience was outraged.
Nijinsky shelved the ballet soon after its scandalous premiere. However, countless versions have been created since Nijinsky’s and choreographers continue to be drawn to the score and scenario.
Masilo, who was born and raised in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, is known for reinventing classic stories so they address black identity and feminism. The Sacrifice therefore represents more than a fusion of less familiar dance forms with contemporary dance. It is an exploration of origin, identity and humanity.
Masilo explains: “I wanted to explore ritual, what sacrifice meant to the Tswana people then and what it means now. Narrative is very important to me. I wanted to create a story that is deeper than a chosen maiden dancing herself to death.”
The epic struggle of the sacrificial victim, danced by Masilo herself, is at the heart of The Sacrifice. The piece intends to question the evil that humans do to themselves and asks what we have to do to change. Can the wrongs of the world be alleviated through the power of the community?
A cast of South African dancers and musicians form their own community on the stage, interacting throughout the performance.
The dancers: Dada Masilo, Leorate Bessler Dibatana, Lwando Dutyulwa, Thuso Lobeko, Lehlohonolo Madise, Songezo Mcilizeli, Refiloe Mogoje, Steven Mokone, Thandiwe Mqokeli, Eutychia Rakaki and Tshepo Zasekhaya.
The composer–musicians: Leroy Mapholo (violinist), Ann Masina (opera and gospel choir singer), Mpho Mothiba (percussionist) and Nathi Shongwe (pianist).
Dada Masilo’s The Sacrifice is touring nationwide thanks to support from Dance Consortium, which invites must-see international contemporary dance companies to visit venues across the UK. The regional theatres that are part of the consortium unite for the benefit of dance-loving and dance-learning audiences. In 2021, audiences in Milton Keynes were treated to a visit from The 7 Fingers.
Running time: Approximately 1 hour, with no interval.
Contains partial nudity (bare-chested bodies).
Age guidance: 12+
*Production photography by Tristram Kenton.
This preview is also featured on Total MK.
Update 20 March 2023: Read my review of Dada Masilo’s The Sacrifice at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.