What is it? An amazing department store in Paris? Wrong. French-Algerian choreographer Heddy Maalem’s interpretation of famed composer Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). Kind of like a tribal version of the groundbreaking composition.

Why see it? Stravinsky got the idea from a dream about paganism. It’s all about historical rites, consecration, sacrifice. What makes Maalem’s version of The Rite of Spring even more exciting is that the troupe is made up of dancers from Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Mozambique, and Senegal. The choreographer’s inspiration came from time spent in Lagos, Nigeria. This is Maalem’s final installment dealing with the question of identity and perception of the African body. A compelling question, especially in Charleston.

Who should go? Stravinsky aficionados and fans of cross-cultural creativity.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $10-$50 • 1 hour • June 7 at 8 p.m.; June 8 at 2 p.m. • Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, 77 Calhoun St. • (843) 579-3100

Culture Clash: Heddy Maalem revamps Stravinsky’s classic Rite of Spring


The performers in Heddy Maalem’s Le Sacre du Printemps hail from the West Coast of Africa — Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, and Algeria. The Lowcountry, specifically Sullivan’s Island, was the South’s Ellis Island, a gateway for imported slaves from West Africa. The intertwined history of Africa and the American South is not lost on the dancers.

“We have performed in so many countries that have links with African slavery,” Maalem says. “One day, a lady came up to me after the performance and told me, ‘You know, Mr. Maalem, I have not seen the color!’ I think it was the best feedback I have ever gotten about my work. With this very naïve phrase, this person told the truth. We are human beings.”

He adds, “There are strong differences between the different countries composing West Africa,” he says. “I think it helps our work. The consciousness to be part of the African continent, to be the ambassadors of the African community, was not there immediately. It came little by little.”

And this communion of souls is partly why he chose Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring for his Spoleto performance. Extremely perceptive of the conflicting forces in modern-day African cities, Maalem felt a common bond with Rite of Spring.

“I felt a strange relationship in Lagos, Nigeria, between the sounds of this big city, the mix of modernity and archaism, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.”

The combination of the Russian work and traditional African dance might seem like a jarring juxtaposition to some, but Maalem melds the two into what’s been hailed as a work of “primal power.”

The primal effect may stem from Maalem’s martial arts background.

“At the beginning, I was very far from dance,” he says. “I was boxing and teaching aikido.”

Maalem’s discovery of dance worked to enhance his movement.

“It was a surprise, the discovery of contemporary dance,” he says. “The possibility to create this way of moving, my own language! I liked the writing. I like the energy of the human body.”

Using a mix of intense dance sequences followed by soft moments, Maalem pushes his dancers’ bodies to explore the score and to see the symbiotic relationship of cultures and how art can bring them together to place that is less political and more spiritual. —Kinsey Labberton