Monday, December 15, 2014

Radhe, Radhe: the Rites of Holi at BAM

In 1913, the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring caused riots. One hundred years, later it has been codified and canonized to such an extent, considerable programming was commissioned to celebrate its centennial. The music does not directly correlate to Stravinsky’s score, but it served as something of a road map for Prashant Bhargava when he filmed the Holi springtime festival in the Northern Indian city of Mathura. Conceived and commissioned as a collaboration with musician Vijay Iyer, Bhargava’s Radhe, Radhe: the Rites of Holi (trailer here), screens with the composer’s live score accompaniment as part of Iyer’s Music of Transformation concert program at BAM.

Now available on DVD from ECM Records, Radhe, Radhe is sort of an experimental melding music and images in the spirit of Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round, but with dramatic and ethnographic components. Bhargava duly captures the eight day Holi festivities in Lord Krishna’s traditional birthplace, but he intersperses the revelry with impressionistic scenes of the goddess Radha, whose ardor for Krishna encompassed and transcended all forms of love.

Although it mirrors the twelve movement structure of Stravinsky’s Rites, viewers will be forgiven if they do not pick up on that point while immersed in the work, especially since the film only identifies two primary sections, “Adoration” and “Transcendence.” Iyer’s solo piano prelude is rather dissonant and free-ish, but it soon gives way to a brightly hued, driving theme with a somewhat Metheny-esque vibe nicely suited to the exuberant crowd scenes. Eventually the flutes evoke the sounds of traditional Indian musical forms, but the trumpets build to a series of rather brassy and jazzy crescendos.

During the “Transcendence” section, Iyer’s skittering piano often announces abrupt mood swings on screen. While Holi is a celebration, nobody is excluded from the customary dousing of colorful dies and powders, regardless of age or general willingness. Indeed, some targets of the merriment clearly do not enjoy the attention, which rather darkens the film’s tone, but it is true to life.

Perhaps the most intimidating challenge fell to actress Anna George, who must convey the passion and devotion of Radha without the benefit of dialogue. Yet, she does so with great power and sensitivity, without ever allowing becoming overwhelmed by Iyer’s roiling score.

The combined artistry of Iyer, Bhargava, and George really transports viewers to an entirely different sphere. Even with the recorded score, it is the darnedest Stravinsky tribute. Hearing it performed live (by Iyer with the International Contemporary Ensemble) should give it a further kick. Recommended for those who appreciate multi-media collaborations, Radhe, Radhe: the Rites of Holi screens during Iyer’s Music of Transformation concerts this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (12/18-12/20) at BAM.