Stunning Premiere: The Rite of Spring For Over a Century on Stage

Stunning Premiere: The Rite of Spring For Over a Century on Stage

At the end of May, 108 years ago, the premiere of The Rite of Spring ballet took place. How did an idea that came to Stravinsky in a dream change the world of ballet forever?

History of creation and famous premiere

Stravinsky recalled that the idea of The Rite of Spring began with a vision: he dreamed of the story of a girl sacrificed to pagan gods.

The choreography in the ballet was staged by Vaslav Nijinsky - this was his first serious experience as a choreographer. Before The Rite of Spring, Nijinsky was already known as an artist of world fame, a leading dancer in Mikhail Fokine's ballets.

 The set was designed by the artist Nicholas Roerich. Together with Stravinsky, they developed a plan for on-stage action, created sketches of costumes and stage backdrops, as well as came up with the names of the dances. Roerich also took part in writing the libretto.

Another star of the production was Sergei Diaghilev. The Rite of Spring was one of the jewels in the crown of his Ballets Russes.

It premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysees in Paris on May 29, 1913. Reaction of the audience was unexpected.

Stravinsky later recalled: "You could hear weak protests about the music from the very beginning of the performance. Then, when the curtain opened on a group of knocked kneed and long braided Lolitas jumping up and down ("Augurs of Spring"), the storm broke."

This reaction shocked the composer. Igor Stravinsky literally ran backstage; in the meantime, Sergei Diaghilev was throwing the switch on and off. Lights in the auditorium were flickering - this way the impresario tried to calm down the crowd. But people could not be stopped: swearing and whistling grew into fights, shouts and laughter were heard, fans and opponents of the production got engaged in a war of words. To such "accompaniment", the dancers were doing their best to complete the performance, and the police was trying to take the loudest spectators out of the hall.

Diaghilev later called the effect of the premiere "stunning". There was definitely truth in this definition.

Revolution on stage

Igor Stravinsky wrote that he had had only his ear to help him when he was creating The Rite of Spring.

“I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which The Rite passed.”

No wonder the production aroused mixed feelings among the Parisian public. The choreography turned out to be revolutionary. Deliberately crooked feet instead of turned-out toes, the ballerinas landing on straight legs instead of bending them. An important metaphor was hidden here: the usual ballet lightness and flexibility gave way to the unity, fusion with the earth. For the ancient people portrayed in the production, such a characteristic was extremely important.

The conceptual meaning of the ballet was in the pagan ritual dance with its primitive emotions. According to the plot, a sacred ritual of Adoration of the Earth is shown in the production. People greet it after a winter sleep, kiss and stomp as if knocking down the upper frozen layer. The culmination that the participants of the ritual action are getting ready for is the rite of sacrifice. The girl chosen for this sacred purpose dances until she falls down dead. She transfers her strength and energy through the earth to the spring, which finally comes into its own right after the ritual. The girl, having established herself in the role of the Great Sacrifice, dies.

In this ancient metaphor, Stravinsky saw the beginning of a new life that comes to earth every spring. Perhaps, that is why movements of the dancers on stage were so reminiscent of "the scratching, gnawing, wiggling of birds and beasts.”

Over time, The Rite of Spring became a real symbol of modern ballet and turned out to be the starting point for a new era of classical dance in the 20th century. Audiences of many world theaters have seen The Rite of Spring many times and visitors of conservatories have listened to it, which proves once again that music and dance in this ballet are inextricably intertwined, valuable both individually and as a duet.