The Rite of Spring celebrates 100 years
The iconic ballet had its premiere century ago today.
29 May 2013 at 11.51am | Comment on this article
The Rite of Spring burst onto an unsuspecting public a century ago today (29 May).
The ballet with its folk music-inflected avant-garde score by Igor Stravinsky caused an instant sensation, provoking a near riot at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on the evening of its premiere. Opinion differs over exactly what happened that evening; whether it was the music or the radical choreography that caused outrage and even how ferocious the reaction to the ballet was. Whatever actually happened, the performance quickly became the stuff of balletic and musical legend, fuelled by reviews such as the one run by Le Figaro which labelled the work ‘a laborious and puerile barbarity’.
The premiere of The Rite of Spring was ‘a key moment in cultural history – a tumultuous scandal’ writes George Benjamin, composer of Written on Skin in a celebratory piece in the Guardian, ‘This, in a way, is cubist music – where musical materials slice into one another, interact and superimpose with the most brutal edges, thus challenging the musical perspective and logic that had dominated European ears for centuries.’
The score has entered into popular culture, and has been featured in a number of films including Walt Disney’s Fantasia.
A century on from its premiere, The Rite of Spring sounds remarkably fresh and has inspired many adaptations. It has even become something of a jazz standard.
With the original choreography by Nijinsky lost until the 1980s when it was revived by the Joffrey Ballet of Los Angeles, a number of choreographers have made the work their own, including Kenneth MacMillan whose version of The Rite of Spring was first performed in 1962. MacMillan’s Rite of Spring will return to Covent Garden in November 2013. Other versions of the ballet include a punk rock reimagining by Michael Clark, a solo version by Javier de Frutos, and a version by Paul Taylor which references gangster films. A modernized staging by Michael Keegan-Dolan and Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre stressed the work’s erotic elements. Alongside the Southbank Centre’s Rest is Noise festival, the venue’s blog is examining an adaptation a day, illustrated with YouTube clips.
At the Royal Opera House, the centenary will be celebrated with a special version of The Rite of Spring adapted by Royal Ballet Soloists Kristen McNally and Thomas Whitehead for 30 children aged 9-10 involved in the Change to Dance Programme. The piece will feature both sections of MacMillan’s choreography as well as creative input from the children involved. Tristan Dyer and Valentino Zucchetti are being coached by Monica Mason – Kenneth MacMillan’s original Chosen One – and will perform the role in the Linbury on 31 May and 2 June. The piece will be performed in a double bill along with Gone Fishing, a unique operatic work performed by the Youth Opera Company and soprano Sarah Redgwick using music from a number of composers including Monteverdi, Mozart, Britten and Adams. A small number of tickets for this double bill are still available.
Watch Monica talking about how the choreographer developed his adaptation and see her rehearsing with Steven McRae, who recently danced the Chosen one in MacMillan’s ballet for The Royal Ballet:
The Rite of Spring runs from 9 – 23 November 2013 in a Mixed Programme with Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and a New Work by David Dawson.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Richard and Delia Baker.