SPRING TRAINING through April 28, and no, it is not baseball

PlayMakers Repertory Company is wrapping up an intense year with a fascinating PRCpresentation by the theatrical troupe Universes, in the Kenan Theatre. April 24 saw the world premiere of Spring Training, co-commissioned by PRC and Carolina Performing Arts as part of The Rite of Spring at One Hundred project. Since Universes is neither a dance company, a traditional theater company nor a traditional music ensemble, but a group that uses theatricality to fuse poetry and politics with mouth and body music, the result of their investigation of The Rite of Spring is quite different from any we’ve seen or heard during this extended Spring season. Chay Yew, artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre, guided and directed this production.

The troupe Universes, at PRC2 through April 28, with the commissioned work SPRING TRAINING. Photo courtesy PRC.

The troupe Universes, at PRC2 through April 28, with the commissioned work SPRING TRAINING. Photo courtesy PRC.

Spring Training opens with the well-known notes played by the bassoon–but here sung by Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, as her cohorts commence creating a layered set of rhythms. The music they make with vocalizations and body-beats is fantastic, and the complex rhythms and counter-rhythms are quite Stravinsky-esque. For a few moments, it seems that this will be a musical performance. But soon the stories begin, and four characters appear from the words. They do not initially seem connected, except by the tissue of rhythm and chorus in which they nestle, but commonalities emerge. They are stories of people struggling in the the spring of their lives, and reflecting on that “spring training” in their latter days. In each story, there is something about community, and something about wisdom from the elders. And in each story, there is death.

One notable thing among the many that set this Rite apart is the absence of the idea of sacrifice. In the original Stravinsky/Nijinsky/Roerich music/ballet/visualization, and in most of the subsequent dance versions, the Chosen One is sacrificed by the community for its ongoing good, and she acquiesces in that, as it is her community, too. In Spring Training, death is not so methodical or purposeful. A random drive-by shooting has no renewing effect. In one story, a man tries to get his family to safety when a riot breaks out in his own neighborhood. His car is stopped by the mob; he proves his solidarity by shouting out “let the motherfucker BURN” and they let him pass. This soundeth not like springtime, pagan or otherwise.

Shifting the focus toward the individuals within the community–to each of us dancing to the death–and the painful acquisition of wisdom while surviving life really flips The Rite around. I’ve lost track of how many versions I’ve seen and heard since the inception of CPA’s project last September, but none of them has made me so completely reconsider the whole matter. Now that’s art.

Spring Training continues in the Kenan Theatre of the UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Chapel Hill, only through April 28 (two shows on Sunday). This is the small theatre–reservations recommended. http://www.playmakersrep.org

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