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  • We typically think of ballet as harmonious, graceful and polished

  • hardly features that would trigger a riot.

  • But at the first performance of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring,"

  • audience members were so outraged that they drowned out the orchestra.

  • Accounts of the event include people hurling objects at the stage,

  • challenging each other to fights, and getting arrested

  • all on what started as a sophisticated night at the ballet.

  • First performed in May 1913

  • at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris,

  • "The Rite of Spring" is set in prehistoric times.

  • The narrative follows an ancient Pagan community

  • worshipping the Earth and preparing for the sacrifice of a woman

  • intended to bring about the change of seasons.

  • But the ballet is much more concerned with the violent relationship

  • between humans, nature, and culture

  • than with character or plot.

  • These themes manifest in a truly upsetting production

  • which combines harsh music, jerky dancing, and uncanny staging.

  • It opens with dancers awakening to a solo bassoon,

  • playing in an eerily high register.

  • This gives way to discordant strings, punctured by unexpected pauses

  • while the dancers twitch to the music.

  • These frightening figures enact the ballet's brutal premise,

  • which set audiences on edge

  • and shattered the conventions of classical music.

  • In these ways and many more,

  • "The Rite of Spring" challenged the orchestral traditions

  • of the 19th century.

  • Composed on the cusp of both the first World War

  • and the Russian revolution,

  • "The Rite of Spring" seethes with urgency.

  • This tension is reflected in various formal experiments,

  • including innovative uses of syncopation, or irregular rhythm;

  • atonality or the lack of a single key,

  • and the presence of multiple time signatures.

  • Alongside these strikingly modern features,

  • Stravinsky spliced in aspects of Russian folk music

  • a combination that deliberately disrupted

  • the expectations of his sophisticated, urban audience.

  • This wasn't Stravinsky's first use of folk music.

  • Born in a small town outside of St. Petersburg in 1882,

  • Stravinsky's reputation was cemented with the lush ballet "The Firebird."

  • Based on a Russian fairytale,

  • this production was steeped in Stravinsky's fascination

  • with folk culture.

  • But he plotted a wilder project in "The Rite of Spring,"

  • pushing folk and musical boundaries to draw out the rawness of pagan ritual.

  • Stravinsky brought this reverie to life

  • in collaboration with artist Nicholas Roerich.

  • Roerich was obsessed with prehistoric times.

  • He had published essays about human sacrifice

  • and worked on excavations of Slavic tombs

  • in addition to set and costume design.

  • For "The Rite of Spring," he drew from Russian medieval art

  • and peasant garments to create costumes that hung awkwardly

  • on the dancers' bodies.

  • Roerich set them against vivid backdrops of primeval nature;

  • full of jagged rocks, looming trees and nightmarish colors.

  • Along with its dazzling sets and searing score,

  • the original choreography for "The Rite of Spring"

  • was highly provocative.

  • This was the doing of legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky,

  • who developed dances to rethinkthe roots of movement itself.”

  • Although Stravinsky later expressed frustration

  • with Nijinsky's demanding rehearsals

  • and single-minded interpretations of the music,

  • his choreography proved as pioneering as Stravinsky's composition.

  • He contorted traditional ballet

  • to both the awe and horror of his audience,

  • many of whom expected the refinement and romance of the genre.

  • The dancing in "The Rite of Spring" is agitated and uneven,

  • with performers cowering, writhing and leaping about as if possessed.

  • Often, the dancers are not one with the music

  • but rather seem to struggle against it.

  • Nijinsky instructed them to turn their toes inwards

  • and land heavily after jumps, often off the beat.

  • For the final, frenzied scene,

  • a woman dances herself to death to loud bangs and jarring strings.

  • The ballet ends abruptly on a harsh, haunting chord.

  • Today, "The Rite of Spring"

  • remains as chilling as its controversial debut,

  • but the shockwaves of the original work continue to resound and inspire.

  • You can hear Stravinsky's influence in modern jazz's dueling rhythms,

  • folky classical music, and even film scores for horror movies,

  • which still illicit a riotous audience response.

We typically think of ballet as harmonious, graceful and polished

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B2 US TED-Ed stravinsky rite ballet folk music

The ballet that incited a riot - Iseult Gillespie

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    ally.chang posted on 2020/02/27
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