Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps is arguably the most influential score composed for dance in the last century.
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.