agnieszka laska

A Portland ‘Rite of Spring’ momentous in its own right

Ken Selden and Agnieszka Laska join forces to celebrate the 'Rite'


On May 29, 1913, “The Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky to music composed by Igor Stravinsky, premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for The Ballets Russes, the ballet captured a pagan celebration of spring: A young virgin, The Chosen One, sacrifices herself to the God of Spring by dancing herself to death. There were only eight performances of the ballet in Paris and London, and it was not performed again until its careful reconstruction by The Joffrey Ballet in 1987.

“”The Rite of Spring”” is notorious for the riots that supposedly occurred on its opening night in Paris. The night was a hot and humid, and tempers flared as the patrons at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées shared their opinions on the new production. Some reported that the theater broke out in pandemonium and the police were called; another report said a duel was scheduled because a lady was slighted; and another that the music was almost inaudible for the dancers onstage because of all the whistling, catcalling and shouting in the audience. Audiences up until this point were accustomed to a very different esthetic, what was seen and heard that night was considered by many to be ugly and noisy. Whatever the truth was, this was a turning point for both music and dance.

Henri Quittard, a music critic for Le Figaro, called the work “a laborious and puerile barbarity”: “We are sorry to see an artist such as M. Stravinsky involve himself in this disconcerting adventure.” But the view of Jacques Riviere, a French intellectual and editor of The New French Review, has prevailed: “The great innovation of le Sacre du Printemps is the absence of all “trimmings.” Here is a work that is absolutely pure. Cold and harsh, if you will, but without any glaze to mar its inherent brilliance, without any artifices to rearrange or distort its contours. This is not a “work of art” with all the usual little contrivances. Nothing is blurred, nothing obscured by shadows; there is no veiling or poetic mellowing, no trace of esthetic effect. The work is presented whole and in its natural state; the parts are set before us completely raw, without anything that will aid in their digestion; everything is open, intact, clear, and coarse…”


Lauren Michelle Richmond, The Chosen One, in Agnieszka Laska’s version of “The Rite of Spring” /Photo by Chris Leck

The June 7 centennial celebration of “The Rite of Spring” at Lincoln Hall with Ken Selden conducting the PSU orchestra and choreography by Agnieszka Laska was momentous. A live orchestra and a live dance performance on the same stage is rare in Portland, and the concert was met with great enthusiasm by the audience, a sold-out house and a standing ovation.



According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2010, an estimated 12.3 million adults and children were in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world; 56 percent of these victims were women and girls. As many as 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year in the United States.

With “Broken Flowers,” Agnieszka Laska, a local Polish expatriate and choreographer, has brought attention to the situation of  this problem. Her episodic,  53-minute dance depicts the devastating psychological effects of being forced into sexual slavery. In collaboration with her composer husband Jack Gabel and nine dancers, she has explored the inner workings and personal relationships inside the world of human trafficking. “People are born to be loved. Things are made to be used. Lives go wrong when things are loved and people are used.” (program notes)

Through dim lighting, a creaky bed, one long wooden table, 3 stools, mirrors and a row of clothes taken on and off, Laska (whose previous dances have dealt with 9/11, the wars in the Middle East, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and airport body scanners) creates a lonely, bleak scene where eight sex workers and one pimp tell a story of dependence, physical abuse, rape, innocence lost, isolation, exploitation, slavery and oppression.

“Broken Flowers” is a series of connected solos, duets and group dances that tell the story of a group of women trapped in sexual slavery by one man. It opens in a very theatrical way with one dancer sitting alone in a spotlight in the middle of the floor while the others are scattered around the dark edges of the stage suggestively lounging across a bed, a table and some chairs.


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