The dancers are marvelous. In addition to those named, Stefano Rosato and Simon Williams give especially bold performances. Oddly, amid all this good dancing and smart craziness and why-not? inventiveness, the only profoundly stirring moment of Program B had little to do with the choreography. In between Mmm and I Do, some archival BBC footage was projected. Here before us in black-and-white, Igor Stravinsky conducts the opening of Sacre—a very little, gnome-like man, eyes darting, summoning up this huge, life-affirming musical experience. Reader, I wept.

Heddy Maalem’s Le Sacre du Printemps is much rawer and more passionate. Half French, half Algerian, born in Algiers and raised in France, Maalem came to dance through boxing and Japanese martial arts, and in 2004 was indirectly inspired to tackle Stravinsky’s score by a visit to Lagos, Nigeria, where devastating poverty, eroding traditions, and rampant Westernization butt together. The 14 dancers in his France-based company are all of African descent.

To a superb recording of Stravinsky’s music (Pierre Boulez leading the Cleveland Orchestra), the performers come together in a kind of contemporary ritual. The men wear colored trunks, the women trunks and bras. The stage is a white box. The most striking thing about Maalem’s choreography is the way he designs the group. The dancers—or clumps of them—often nest together, bellies pressed against one another’s bent-over backs. The men nuzzle up to the women; once, in pairs, the women dance wide-legged, while the each man keeps his head pressed against his partner’s thigh and groin. In Part II, the scene in the original Sacre in which the victim is chosen, people cluster around Marie Diedhiou and gently touch her body; then they lean in and, in one swift action, form a basket and lift her so she’s nesting on their arms.

Compagine Heddy Maalem in Maalem’s Sacre du Printemps
Patrick Fabre
Compagine Heddy Maalem in Maalem’s Sacre du Printemps

Details

Michael Clark Company
Rose Theater
June 4 through 7

Compagnie Heddy Maalem
Joyce Theater
June 10 through 15

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The performers respond instantly to changes in the music—patiently forming lines, circles, and chains, then suddenly erupting into running, leaping, and violent head-shaking. But Maalem also offers an introduction and an interlude with Benoît Dervaux’s projected films of Lagos—lush scenery or urban congestion—set to augmented natural sounds. The dramatic timing of the piece is sometimes crude or confusing. Suddenly everyone onstage starts hurling imaginary rocks at one corner, then at us. And then that’s over, and they surround Diedhiou. There’s an implied mating (she and Hardo Papa Salif Ka), but Diedhiou is leader as well as sacrifice, and the lights black out before the final tremulous note of the music sounds. The real ordeal is left to spot-lit Dramane Diarra, alone on stage in front of a blurry, chopped-up film of a horse. Without stirring from his spot, he writhes and jerks his limbs and torso, increasing in speed until he’s almost spastic. The lights go out again. Now what? Oh, it’s over. Uncertain, but grinning, the vivid performers trail onto the stage and bow. Their roughness, their power, their commitment are endearing.

Compagnie Heddy Maalem performs as part of a season billed as “The French Collection.” Compagnie Maguy Marin plays at the Joyce from June 17 through 22 and Ballet Biarritz from June 24 through 28. You can also escape the hot city and catch Maalem’s Sacre at Jacob’s Pillow (June 25 through 29).

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