Browse reviews

Edinburgh International Festival 2023

The Rite of Spring / Common Ground[s]

Pina Bausch Foundation / École des Sables / Sadler’s Wells

Genre: Dance

Venue: Edinburgh Playhouse


Low Down

Dancers from across Africa perform Pina Bausch’s acclaimed choreography of The Rite of Spring in a double bill with the duet common ground[s] by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo.


The Edinburgh International Festival and Pina Bausch Foundation / École des Sables / Sadler’s Wells present an evening comprising two pieces headlined by The Rite of Spring which premiered in the UK in 1978 at the International Festival.

This production includes the original choreography by Pina Bausch and the company has assembled thirty four dancers from fourteen African countries to perform it at the 2023 Edinburgh International Festival.

The programme opens with a new work called common ground[s] created and performed by Germaine Acogny, the ‘mother of contemporary African dance’ and Malou Airaudo, who has performed leading roles in many of Bausch’s early works.

A rich dark plum coloured light fills the stage and in the shadows two people are centre stage, they move around each other. This piece is about friendship, the friendship of women and the friendship of Acogny and Airaudo. Beautiful imagery against the dramatic, vibrant warm lighting fills the stage by lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli.

The two dancers are subtle and graceful, they move with a sensuous quality as they move together almost floating across the stage in their long black flowing costumes designed by Petra Leidner. Set to beautiful music by Fabrice Bouillon LaForest their movement becomes more expansive and symbolic. They also converse, sing a little and become playful, following each other in this tender exploration of friendship.

Rite of Spring begins dramatically, when a woman runs across the stage and lays her face down. What is fascinating is that the entire stage is covered in a thick layer of earth and all dancers are barefoot. In the stunning setting the story that develops is intriguing and harrowing – a woman is chosen to dance herself to her death in a traditional ceremony to celebrate the season of new life and in Bausch’s version it focuses on the women’s point of view. 

Vibrant music by Igor Stravinsky is stirring and dramatic supporting the emotive dancers who interact together as an ensemble and as ever changing small and large groups. The interactions and partnering of the male and female pairings are vigorous and notable when one group is repelled by the other. Who will be chosen this year? Who wants to be chosen? These are questions to be answered. The women wear white silky slips and the men wear contrasting costumes of wide black trousers and no tops by set and costume designer Rolf Borzik.

Bausch’s chorography is a mix of contemporary and jazz styles with dynamic grounded rhythmic sequences, creative lifts, visceral duets and magnificent ensemble work. Agile movement and quick turns, en masse reactions to certain moments, muscular throws and emotive interactions constantly change from one to the other with memorable exuberant energy. Patterns develop on the ground and we can see how tension affects male and female dancers differently, as they use the entire space sometimes in tight formations of one two large groups and others spread out.

This is an exceptional opportunity to see Bausch’s choreography set on an exciting ensemble of dancers from Africa. It is a beautiful programme of dance that is both meaningful and memorable.