Neoclassical ballet

As Yale Dance Lab rehearses a ballet classic, it opens doors to the community

More than a century ago, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” created a sensation perhaps unprecedented in the history of theatre. Featuring Vaslav Nijinsky’s choppy choreography and Stravinsky’s dissonant score, and depicting scenes of pagan ritual, it was unlike anything audiences had seen before. When he debuted in Paris in 1913, he caused famous riots.

Nevertheless, it was to become a seminal work in the history of concert dancing, strongly influencing many orchestral ballets to come.

This semester, nearly 110 years after ballet’s debut, Yale Dance Lab has launched a workshop to create its own production of the classic, which will be choreographed by dancer-choreographer Emily Coates, a professor in practice and director of dance studies at the Theater and Performance Studies, and dancer-choreographer Lacina Coulibaly, Program Lecturer and Dance Lab Artistic Associate.

On Tuesday, March 8, the Dance Lab invites members of the Yale community to attend a public rehearsal at the Crescent Theater. The presentation will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Next year’s final show will feature live music from the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

The opportunity for such a large-scale collaboration with one of Yale’s greatest musical gems is very special and hopefully sets a pattern for more,” said Coates, who established the Yale Dance Lab in 2011.

Yale Dance Lab is a faculty-led, extracurricular arts research initiative that aims to promote community, interdisciplinary collaboration, and activism through dance at Yale and beyond. The initiative also offers students the opportunity to work with visiting choreographers and industry professionals, including Yale’s own dance faculty.

Born in Burkina Faso, Coulibaly brings a unique vision of the world and a dance education rooted in African choreographic expression. His collaboration with Coates, a former New York City Ballet dancer with a background in neoclassical ballet and American postmodern dance, will allow the two artists to merge their different backgrounds and styles in a new modern exploration of Nijinsky’s historic oeuvre. The production extends a collaboration that began twelve years ago when they created a duet together entitled “Ici Ou Ailleurs”, which they performed extensively.

Any choreographer will find it difficult to choreograph Rite of Spring,” Coulibaly said. “It’s already an iconic piece of music and the music itself is history.”

But despite its premiere more than a century ago, its plot is still relevant. “The script matches my way of seeing the world because we prefer to sacrifice our lives and nature for materials, power, money and weapons,” Coulibaly said.

The co-choreographers and their ensemble of 10 Yale student dancers began the workshop four weeks ago. And the harder they work, Coates said, the more excited they get about the project’s potential.

As you rehearse, you realize more about what you are doing,” she said. “It’s not just about coming up with movement that’s as innovative or as original or as ‘us’ as possible, it’s about working with the dancers as individuals and thinking about what it’s like to develop a whole.”

The band also dives headfirst into the creative research process.

We let the process unfold and see where it takes us,” Coates said. “When you develop choreography, you take an idea and start exploring it. Your discoveries take you from place to place until you’ve amassed enough movement material for a dance.

Coulibaly added: “It really requires a lot of thought because we transpose the whole story but also keep the specificity of it.”

Performing in conjunction with the Yale Symphony Orchestra next year will add to the challenge.

Dancing to live music is nothing like recorded music: the sounds are more vulnerable, human, and responsive to movement in real time,” Coates said.

The stage production will also draw on maps and travel images from the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library to set the scene, tracing transnational networks of cultural exchange through time to reflect on crises and planetary care, Coates said.

While the final public presentation won’t take place until next year, Yale Dance Lab looks forward to opening its doors to the community for Tuesday’s public rehearsal.

During this rehearsal, spectators will be able to witness the process of creating a dance. It will also allow audiences to see how artists swap stories and challenge each other to execute complex ideas in motion, Coulibaly said.

The dancers involved in the workshop are Laila Blavatnik ’23, Lexi Dalrymple ’25, Sophia DeVito ’23, Tadea Martin-Gonzalez ’24, Gabrielle Niederhoffer ’23, Virginia Peng ’25, Yale Law School student Talia Rothstein, Santana Vannarath ’24, Gabrielle Welbel ’23 and Isabelle Zou ’23.

Fully vaccinated Yale faculty, students, and staff are invited to attend the public rehearsal. Learn more about the event and register here link.