Celebrating the “Rite of Spring” Centennial

Posted on May 29, 2013 by
The Joffrey Ballet performs Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring

The Joffrey Ballet performs Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Is it just me, or are dance-goers less enthusiastic than they used to be? One hundred years ago today, the audience went nuts over the premiere of a ballet. Literally. They screamed, shouted, nearly rioted in the streets of Paris, because the latest work from the Ballets Russes wasn’t what they were expecting. Then again, it’s been a while since a performance forever changed the course of dance history.

The Rite of Spring, born of a collaboration between Vaslav Nijinsky and the yet unknown Igor Stravinsky, depicts a Slavic tribe’s ritual of sacrificing a young maiden to ensure the arrival of spring. Dancers stomp and jump with turned-in feet to Stravinsky’s famously dissonant, nearly uncountable score. It was risky, taboo and jarring, like nothing audiences had experienced before. After Rite’s infamous May 29, 1913 premiere, other artists began to stretch the limits of music and movement, continually challenging the norm and eventually ushering in the era of modernism.

Today, the dance world celebrates the innovative ballet. The Richmond Ballet will present the work in full tonight as part of the Virginia Arts Festival. The Bolshoi, Houston Ballet and Bill T. Jones are also staging new versions of Rite this season. And until September, Washington DC’s National Gallery hosts the special exhibit, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, featuring costumes from the original Rite of Spring production and footage of a recent staging, along with other archival treasures. Among the antique costumes, designs and set pieces, the magic of the Ballet Russes comes alive, 100 years after that fateful Paris premiere.

Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy of Joffrey Ballet

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