A fruiful Rite: the centennial of Le Sacre du Printemps

On May 29th 1913 in Paris the first performance

Rita Zambon


1913 was a year packed with events in the arts field: in literature masterpieces such as Das Urteil by Franz Kafka and  Du côté de chez Swann – the first part of À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust – saw the light; in painting Vasilij Kandinskij took part in the great exhibition Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon organized in Berlin and devoted to the European avant-garde. In Paris, the center of culture and society life, Marc Chagall painted Paris par la fenêtre, while his St. Petersburg teacher, Nicholas Roerich, designed the scenery for a ballet – produced by Sergej Djagilev’s Ballets Russes – that was destined to throw the Parisians into confusion: Le Sacre du Printemps.

The story of the first performance, on May 29th at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, is well-known: both the telluric music by Igor Stravinskij and the revolutionary choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky evoked a violent reaction by the audience that drowned out the performers with hisses. About this episode, see Andy Wilson’s BBC film of 2005  Riot at the Rite with the Finnish National Ballet. In an accurate reconstruction of the environment in which the creation of the masterpiece took place, the director highlights the relationship – a stormful one on several occasions – between  Igor Stravinskij and Vaslav Nijinsky, with Marie Rambert patiently mediating as can be seen in this clip:

But, as Stravinskij himself recalls in this interview, immediately afterwards the score was performed as a concert with a resounding success:

It was not the same with the ballet:  Nijinsky’s choreography was performed seven more  times and then finally dropped; Djagilev charged Léonide Massine, a rising star of  Ballets Russes, to compose a new version. Only in the 80’s of last century Nijinsky’s masterpiece was revived thanks to the reconstruction by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer for Joffrey Ballet and entered in the repertory of the major dance companies.

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