The RIOT of Spring


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Monday, May 20, 2013 - 16:14
The Rite  RIOT of Spring It is the 100 year anniversary of the premier of The Rite of Spring and here at Southbank Centre we are excited to host Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle, a new adaptation of this illustrious work.  But what is it that makes The Rite of Spring such a notorious, yet celebrated work?  Join me as I explore the history of The Rite of Spring and some of the most memorable productions of it. The orchestral concert piece and ballet The Rite of Spring was the masterful creation of the composer Igor Stravinsky.  The score was debuted alongside Vaslav Nijinsky’s progressive choreography for the Ballets Russes at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, in 1913.  Yet, this was no ordinary premier.  As the music started and the dancers began to stomp across the stage, all pigeon toed and tribalistic, the crowd became discomforted, unruly, and even violent.  The Parisian elite were stunned by what they saw: ballet dancers in Russian pagan clothing, not on pointe, but gyrating purposefully without grace or poise. As Alex Ross says, ‘Nijinsky’s choreography discarded classical gestures in favour of near-anarchy.’ These anarchic, pagan movements astounded the audience. Furthermore, the subject matter, a young girl selected by the elders to be sacrificed, was disquieting and shocked the audience. Whilst the ‘bohemian’ artists, poets and musicians of Paris applauded the innovative dance and music, others laughed at the music and booed the dancers. Arguments broke out amongst the crowd, forcing the house lights to be turned on and off by the management and the more offensive elements of the audience to be forcibly ejected by the police and management.  On top of which, Diaghilev who epitomised the statement ‘no press is bad press’ is widely accused of planting mercenary rioters throughout the hall! For a dramatised version of events, take a look at the opening sequence to the 2009 film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. [youtube=] Yet, people still debate as to what it was that the crowd took such a dislike to.  The music or the dance?  The controversy surrounding The Rite of Spring is something which has kept it alive since that night in 1913, with us celebrating its centenary this year.  Despite such a disastrous start Najinsky’s production of The Rite of Spring went on to show in London, but after nine performances in 1913 it was never given again. After Najinsky’s departure from the Ballets Russes and his demise due to mental health conditions, his choreography was seemingly lost.  In 1920, when his replacement Léonard Massine came to reinitiate the Ballets Russes relationship with The Rite of Spring, it was found that little of the choreography could be remembered.  As such, Massine choreographed a new version, although utilising the original 1913 stage design and costume by Nicholas Roerich.  This time the world was ready for The Rite of Spring.  Massine’s version was deemed more acceptable, perhaps due to the altered perceptions of the world after World War One, and travelled to the US in 1930 where Martha Graham took up the role of the Chosen One.  It is because of this that various adaptations have come to fruition, giving The Rite of Spring, as a dance and a score, world-wide acclaim. Over the next fortnight I will be chronologically counting down ten of the best, most intriguing and innovative productions of The Rite of Spring, culminating with a look at some of the current centenary celebrations.  Join me over the next two weeks to delve into this iconic and sometime controversial production. Our 10 - click on the title to go to the post: 10. Maurice Béjart’s “Sacred Scandals” 9. Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of the Royal Ballet 8. Pina Bausch’s Rite leaves them panting and sweating 7. The reconstructed Rite 6. The Rite gets even more rebellious in Mmm… 5. The Rite gets risqué with Preljocaj 4. The Rite gets a Hip-Hop beat with the Ballet Boyz 3. Dogs, witches and feminisation in The Rite of Spring 2. The Rite in the digital age 1. The Centenary celebrations of The Rite of Spring