HIP talks to Florence Peake as she prepares for a performance of RITE: on this pliant body we slip our WOW!, the culmination of a three-year research project centred on Stravinsky’s score for the Rite of Spring – the famous modernist ballet which provoked such outrage on its opening night the dancers couldn’t hear the orchestra.

“For me, it’s a physical protest against fascism,” says Peake, who has a long-held affection for Stravinsky’s original score for the ballet and who has been working on this project for more than three years. “It’s a sculptural interpretation of the score, which begins with a performance.”

The original ballet tells the story of a young woman who is chosen by fate to dance herself to death as part of a ritual sacrifice to Spring. Stravinsky’s modernist score builds throughout the piece, layering motifs and conflicting simultaneous rhythms, beginning with The Adoration of the Earth and culminating in an ‘onslaught on the senses’ with the finale, The Sacrificial Dance. “The modernists had such a straightforward approach to what they were doing, they really believed in it – with no cynicism.” Says Peake “Nowadays its difficult to produce work which isn’t a comment or ironic, or in some way looking at things from a distance.”

The performance, which was developed over the course of a month-long residency at Somerset House Studios, will take place at the De La Warr on 6th May, and will bring together six tons of wet clay with five dancers. The dancers will perform in the clay, accompanied by sound created by Beatrice Dilion which includes recordings of Peake working and throwing wet clay. Only at the end, during The Sacrificial Dance, will Stravinsky’s original score be included in the piece. The resulting clay form, having been shifted and shaped by the dancers, will remain in the gallery for the summer as the central piece of an exhibition, which will also include films showing aspects of the research and a frieze running around the walls of the gallery, which has been developed collaboratively with local dancers and community members.

The original Rite of Spring was first performed in 1913.  “There are similarities to now. Fascism was on the rise and Europe was fragmenting. Now a new kind of conservativism is on the rise, in particular in how we relate to and live in our own bodies.” Peake says, “I see the current drive to physical perfection as a kind of fascism, fuelled by capitalism and consumerism. This work is a protest against that. Through the nakedness of the bodies, the earthiness of the clay and the natural, rhythmic nature of the movement I want to remind us of our own bodies as primal things, to remind us to trust our bodies and to trust pleasure.”

As the music of the original score bombards the senses, the processes explored and developed over the course of the project combine to create a dense layering of sound, gesture and expressionism. “It has resulted in a kind of camp paganism, and I say this as someone who has a background in spirituality.” says Peake “My ambition is that the work builds to such a frenzy that cynical detachment will no longer be possible.”

It’s not likely a warmer audience for camp paganism could be found than at the Eastern edge of Sussex on the eve of Jack in the Green, and surely a trip to see this performance would only enhance a May bank holiday weekend! If you don’t manage to get one of the last remaining tickets make sure you visit the exhibition, which will run until early September.

Free open rehearsal: Friday 4 May, 2-4pm
Performance: Sunday 6 May,  7pm.  (16+, contains nudity)
Durational performance: 2-5pm, free Exhibition opens 12 May until Sunday 2 September, First floor gallery

 For tickets and more information click here


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