In the mid 1920s, Ida Rubinstein commissioned Maurice Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of Albéniz’s Iberia. Copyright issues, of all things, sent that plan sideways, and the world got Bolero instead. Rubinstein performed in the premiere of Bolero in 1928, when the future-choreographer Maurice Béjart was one year old. More than a decade earlier, she danced with the legendary Vaslav Nijinksy in the then-scandalous Scheherazade for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, for audiences that included Sarah Bernhard and Pablo Picasso. This is the same company that, with Nijinski’s help, altered the path of 20th century music and dance with their performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and the apocryphal “riot” caused by one of its first shows.
Béjart would reinterpret this work some 30 years later, cementing its influence as a modern work rather than a “new classic” to be lifelessly propped up by school drama departments. Then, in 1961, he reinterpreted Bolero, with the incredible Jorge Donn performing the male-solo variation. Ever aware of their influences, Béjart and Donn later paid homage to Nijinski in Nijinksi, Clown of God, in which Donn directly inhabited the role of the dancer who had influenced his career and the careers of countless other dancers in the 20th century. Donn reprised this role in 1990, just two years before his death from AIDS, by which time the innovative and genre-crossing techniques for which Béjart had often been criticized had become standard fare for contemporary dance.
This is a thread that winds through 80 years of explosive innovation and exploration in not just dance, but every branch of modern art and the roots of postmodernity. If you tug on it, more connections and lines of influence become clear. If you need a map to follow it all, ask Allie Hankins. For the past three years, she’s wound herself up in these threads and the legacy of movements, choreography, and performance that they have created. On Friday, October 24, she and 80 pounds of crimson lycra will weave them all together for the first time in full at Conduit dance studio.