Mapping Nijinsky’s Cross - Cultural Legacy: Min Tanaka’ s Le Sacré du Printemps (1987)
Premiered to an unsuspecting Parisian audience in 1913, this Modernist ballet was subtitled ‘Scenes of Pagan Russia,’ a moniker that evoked the rituals of pre-Christian society. Vaslav Nijinsky’s groundbreaking choreography shocked audiences with its visceral embodiment of primeval spirituality, and Sacre has subsequently been re-staged by a wide variety of classical and contemporary choreographers across the world, including Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, and Maurice Béjart. This paper focuses on a distinctly non-Western version of Stravinsky’s score, namely Min Tanaka’s Butoh choreography of 1987. Tanaka’s work, with stage settings by Richard Serra, was premiered a year after the death of his mentor Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Butoh form. In this paper, I draw comparisons between Tanaka’s stark movement vocabulary and Western embodiments of Sacre, including those of Bausch and Wigman, in order to chart a cross-cultural dialogue in dance performance since the 1913 premiere. With his controversial work, Nijinsky explored new levels of primitive ritualism in performance. He induced a company of classically trained dancers to revert to a primordial form of movement, enacting their ritual through a new choreographic vocabulary derived from elements of Central Asian folk dance. Stravinsky’s score has come to be an ongoing source of inspiration for choreographers exploring non-Western ritual from 1913 to the present day, and I posit that Tanaka’s Sacre symbolises the logical conclusion of this dialogue between Eastern and Western performance. I argue that avant-garde dance performance throughout the twentieth century has been shaped by an amalgamation of cultural elements, and that, ultimately, this inter-cultural dialogue represents Nijinsky’s enduring Modernist legacy.