100 years ago this evening: the Rite which caused riots

100 years ago this evening, the beautiful people of Paris turned up at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a smart new theatre in Paris, to watch a ballet.

But it was like no ballet they had heard or seen before. Even the opening bassoon solo elicited loud laughs of derision from the bemused audience. And when the dancing started, so did the rioting.

The Rite of Spring, with music by Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, is a discordant howl from the Steppes of Russia. A tale of prehistoric human sarifice, it was utterly apart from the grace that ballet audiences had come to expect from their visits. The sounds and shapes the audience saw that night were so revolutionary that Nijinsky’s moves were pulled and not recreated for decades.

Lost to us, these incredible ways of moving, for all that time.

And yet the moment I set eyes on them I was infatuated. Utterly enthralled. Pagan, lawless, wild and without boundaries, testing even death, the choreography was demanding and exhausting for that ballet comany, the Ballets Russes, a century ago tonight.

In 1989 a ballet company got Nijinsky’s moves out once again. And to my eternal gratitude, they not only reacreated the ballet the way Nijinsky wanted it; they filmes it as well.

Celebrate with me. Watch The Rite Of Spring tonight, 100 years since it caused mayhem in Paris. You might like to have your own little riot to commemorate the occasion. Throw a few sandwiches. Jeer in muted tones.

But don’t miss it.

You can read more here


22 thoughts on “100 years ago this evening: the Rite which caused riots

  1. By another one of those extraordinary coincidences (I didn’t know about the centenary) I have this on my car player at the moment.
    Um, you wouldn’t care to contribute a commentary suitable for a demanding 5-year-old, would you?

    1. I could; I’m a teacher. But it would centre on stuff about a village in Russia just after the dinosaurs. And lots about dancing. Less about the whole point of the ballet.

  2. “[T]he choreography was demanding and exhausting for that ballet company” and I might add for the viewer, Kate. After watching just ten minutes I need Advil and a masseuse. Nijinksy was only 24 when he created that choreography. Impressive.

    1. Even the ballet company kicked up about the choreography, Lame; it was not an easy production to stage. Still, it made history.

      Now go and take that Advil.

  3. Thank you much for sharing, Kate. We discussed this controversy last fall in my online poetry class – the whole Modern movement – how it found its way into theatre – music – dance…so wonderful. I wonder if you’ve ever explored Martha Graham…

    1. I have, a little, Angela. I love her work, and sometimes get frustrated with ballet companies who are just not raw enough to dance it. So often they miss the raw quality of the choreography.

  4. Just waiting for someone to mention Disney’s Fantasia (and I don’t count your comment, Kate, about a village in Russia just after the dinosaurs as a closet reference, even if the most famous bit of that sequence involves a T Rex!).

    When I taught music in the classroom I used the video as an introduction to the music and its controversial aspect for contemporaries. Interesting that between 1913 and 1940, when the film was released, you could go from adult incomprehension to acceptance by a child-friendly audience.

    Needless to say, my tender musical charges, generally having little historical perspective and even less interest, were not particular impressed. Not even by my demonstration of polytonality (E major against the dominant seventh of A flat) and attempts at Stravinskian polyrhythms.

    By the way, the BBC has done a docu-drama about Nijinsky, Diaghilev and the creation of the Rite which they have already re-broadcast once. It may still be available on i-Player.

  5. I am going to find my old recording of the Rite and will listen over the weekend. It’s probably been years since I’ve paid much attention. You’ve given me incentive to listen a bit more closely and to consider it’s special place in our musical memory! It’s almost midnight here as I read and my eyes are crossing–I think the video might give me odd dreams, so I’ll come back tomorrow and view it with fresh eyes! I’m quite intrigued! 🙂

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