A community celebrates nature through music and dance. One women is eventually singled out by fate as the “Chosen One.” She dances to her death while her ancestors look on.
Pulling from her South African roots, choreographer Dada Masilo has transposed the themes and motifs of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring into a Tswana context. The Sacrifice, presented by Harbourfront Centre as part of their Torque series, honours the source while removing the mythic tale from its European trappings, giving it an transcendent cultural significance.
Three musicians (Leroy Mapholo, Tlale Makhene, and Nathi Shongwe) and a vocalist (Ann Masina), positioned to one side, are an essential, integrated part of the performance. In addition to keyboard and violin, there is also a wide variety of distinctive wind and percussion instruments—drums, shakers, a Umakheweyana bow, a whirly tube and bird call simulator. The soundscape—composed by Masina, Mapholo, Makhene, and Shongwe—evokes diverse sounds of nature with a thrilling, dynamic musicality.
Impassioned stomping and clapping creates an atmosphere of fervent communal celebration. Persuasive call and response vocalizations—urgent yips and hollering—connect the performers to each other and pull the audience into their shared vibe. There is even humour in playful little exchanges between the musicians and dancers.
On a bare white floor and backdrop, Suzette le Sueur’s understated lighting and projections provide some visual placement that never distracts from the dancers. An image of bare tree branches and gentle fluctuations in colour and intensity help bolster the mood of any given segment. Costume designer David Hutt drapes the performers in flowing fabrics of muted green, lavender and white—a elegant contrast between the terrestrial and eternal.
The finale, in which onlookers pay tribute to one of their own as she slowly dies in a self-imposed sacrificial ritual, features a poignant performance by Thandiwe Mqokeli (filling in for Masilo here) and Masina’s truly astonishing vocals. Their closing moments together are deeply moving.