I Do Say, My Good Sir, That This Music Is Quite Abrasive

As I may have mentioned before, the performing arts get me totally jazzed. And nothing gets me more jazzed than thinking about the 1923 premiere of The Rite of Spring. The music was Stravinsky, the choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, and the work ground-breaking. Two men pushing art into areas of modernity, dissonance and raw human emotion never experienced before. Huzzah!

This concise description is from PBS’ Culture Shock :

“On May 29, 1913, in Paris, Les Ballets Russes stages the first ballet performance of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacré du Printemps,) with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario — a setting of scenes from pagan Russia — shock audiences more accustomed to the demure conventions of classical ballet. The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first draw catcalls and whistles from the crowd, and are soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience escalates into a riot.

The Paris police arrive by intermission, but they restore only limited order. Chaos reigns for the remainder of the performance. Nijinsky and Stravinsky are despondent. However, Sergei Diaghilev, the director of Les Ballets Russes, comments that the scandal was “just what I wanted.”

The ballet completes its run of six performances amid controversy, but no further disruption. Both Stravinsky and Nijinsky continue to work, but neither creates pieces in this percussive and intense style again. In later years, The Rite of Spring is regarded as a path-breaking 20th century masterpiece. The work is often heard in concert and the ballet is set by many prominent choreographers. After extensive research, Nijinsky’s original setting is reconstructed and presented by the Joffrey Ballet in 1988. This performance, 75 years after the premiere, causes no riots. In fact, it is televised nationally on PBS.”

It’s quite incredible to imagine people having such a visceral reaction to a piece of choreography in a ballet. Fistfights! Shouting! Riots! I wish I had been there.

The original choreography has since been lost but many modern choreographers restage the ballet. If you wish to see one such restaging, I highly, highly recommend the movie Pina, in select theaters now. Those familiar with Stravinsky’s piece will immediately recognize it in the opening dance sequence of the film and those who aren’t will still enjoy the piece. The movie uses 3D to help capture dance on a film. which before now always seemed so flat and lifeless, the opposite of good dancing.

Below is the trailer:

But really, if you see one movie in all of 2012 it should be Pina. Really.