‘not the usual spring sung by poets . . .
[but] spring seen from inside,
with its violence, its spasms and its fissions’.
The Russian ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinski, made the choreography to the ballet, The rite of spring, by composer Igor Stravinskij. The first performance at Théâtre des Champ-Élysées on 29 May, 1913, became a scandal. The audience was appalled by the music but even more shocked by the choreography.
“As the music swelled into a frenzy of dissonance, the dancers began moving, but what the audience saw bore almost no relation to the grace of traditional ballet.
The dancers’ steps were heavy, as Nijinsky imagined the movements of ancient tribespeople. For much of the performance they faced away from the audience and there was no storyline to follow.
It included a lot of stamping. It included jumps. It didn’t aspire to be ethereal – in other words, to look like jumps that could hang in the air…They seemed to go up simply to crash down into the earth.
This was not ballet. It was a style of expressive performance that was extremely violent, and that seemed to depart completely from conventional ballet vocabulaire.
The audience erupted – with some shouting in rage at having been mocked and insulted, as they saw it, by this ‘non-ballet’ and others defending it, understanding that what they were seeing and hearing was as revolutionary as the writings of Nietzsche and Freud, the discoveries of Einstein, the paintings of Cézanne and Picasso. As one said, they were witnessing ‘an utterly new vision, something never before seen . . . art and anti-art at once’.
However, the arguments quickly descended into physical attacks. Members of rival factions were observed rapping one another on the head with their canes; one tugged another’s top hat down over his face. But their mutual anger were soon directed towards the orchestra: ‘Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on.’ Around forty of the worst offenders were ejected – possibly with the intervention of policemen.”
The ballet was only performed 8 times with Nijinskij’s choreography and was nearly forgotten , until the Chicago-based dance company, Joffrey Ballet, reconstructed it in 1989.
I can’t say, that I was shocked, when I first saw this video clip in March this year, but I was thoroughly shaken. It’s cruel, it’s rude, it’s terrible! But so is the underlying story! The old men of a village is doing a spring sacrifice: a young girl is selected to dance herself to death… The young girl just stands there, paralyzed, until she breaks out in the frantic dance, that kills her!