‘A primal, erotically-charged mud fest’: Florence Peake’s rite at De La Warr Pavilion

The Art Newspaper | Louisa Buck

When Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was first performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in May 1913 at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées in Paris it famously caused a riot. More than a century later, on May bank holiday weekend in Bexhill-on-Sea, South East England, the response to Florence Peake’s revisiting of this key moment in Modernism was rather more restrained. A few nervous sniggers at the sight and sound of five naked dancers energetically activating a landscape made from six tonnes of clay were soon silenced by the physical power and visceral intensity of what was one of the most remarkable events your correspondent has witnessed in a very long time. To take on one of the most iconic works of the early twentieth century is no mean feat, but with RITE: on this pliant body we slip our WOW! at De La Warr Pavilion, Peake rose to the challenge with a vengeance. What she has described as a “performative sculpture” also turned out to be a multi-media immersive Gestamtkunstwerk, melding movement and material and falling into three distinct phases, the last of which is set to endure throughout the summer.

First off, there was a three-hour prelude to the scheduled performance in which the dancers, clad in increasingly clay-soiled metallic lamé jumpsuits, laboured with quiet purposefulness to reshape the clay mise-en-scène in anticipation of what was to come. This included fashioning two giant, grotesquely cartoonish troll heads out of the choppy field, and scooping two shallow hollows into its surface. Throughout, the clay was moistened with a regularly pumped mist of lavender water as well as reverberating to the sound of Beatrice Dillon’s atmospheric score, which had been composed out of sampled audio recordings of Peake handling clay whilst listening to Stravinsky…read more

Image: Anne Tetzlaff