The Rite of Spring 1913


The Adoration of the Earth:
Introduction
Augurs of Spring
Ritual of Abduction
Spring Rounds
Ritual of the Rival Tribes
Procession of the Sage: The Sage
Dance of the Earth

The Sacrifice:
Introduction
Mystic Circles of the Young Girls
Glorification of the Chosen One
Evocation of the Ancestors
Ritual Action of the Ancestors
Sacrificial Dance

It was cool Parisian evening walk down the Avenue Montaigne to Théâtre des Champs-Élysées that only a Russian like Diaghilev could appreciate.  In 1913, Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company gave birth to truly the modern.  It was a night that the world changed and never turned back. The Rite of Spring not only changed the Classical worlds of dance and music but it was more than that, it seemed to call out the source of our anthropologic primitive heritage and notions why humans dance along with the inner pulse of our basic communal instincts and rituals.  As like Stravinsky and Nijinsky, channeled the primitive impulses, and then translated the code into new time and space signatures for the inhabitants of the modern world.

The conceptualization of the Rite of Spring was a journey that begun in 1908 with Stravinsky setting to music two poems from Sergey Gorodetsky’s collection “Yar”.  Another poem in the anthology that may have influenced Stravinsky, is “Yarila”.  Many of the elements in Yarila were similar to Rite of Spring.  In his 1936 autobiography Stravinsky described the origin of the work in 1910, “I had a fleeting vision that came to me as a complete surprise.  I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite with sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring.  Such was the theme of the Sacre du Printemps”.  It was when Stravinsky collaborated with Nicholas Roerich, the foremost Russian expert on folk art and ancient rituals in which the ideas for Rite of Spring started to solidify.  Roerich was known as an artist and mystic and provided the set and costume design for the Rite of Spring.

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Russia to ethnically Polish parents, both were dancers.  In 1900, Nijinsky joined the Imperial Ballet School in which he excelled and was recognized early on for his dancing abilities.  When Nijinsky joined the Ballets Russes it proved to be a turning point in his career. The Ballets Russes gave him the opportunity to use all of his creative ability as a dancer and most important his impact as a choreographer.  His ballets of notable accomplishments were L’après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun), based on Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1912), Jeux (1913), Till Eulenspiegel (1916) and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky) (1913).

Igor Stravinsky was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia and also of Polish linage. His father was Fyodor Stravinsky, a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.  Stravinsky studied piano and music theory as a young boy but was not considered an exceptional talent.  It was until he met and studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov later in life as an adult that his talent was developed.   Stravinsky continued lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov until 1908, the year of Rimsky-Korsakov ‘s death.  In 1909, Stravinsky received his first notable commission.  It was at this time Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Stravinsky’s work on Fireworks which prompted Diaghilev to commission Stravinsky to perform some orchestrations that led to compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird (1910) then followed by Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  These three ballet scores are perhaps Stravinsky most notable symphonic  works.

Since that faithful evening of May 29th, 1913, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring now has taken its place as a standard symphonic master piece which never has been rivaled.  As for Nijinsky he leaves us with a legacy of a haunting and brilliant passage of the poetics of form and space, in the art form we call dance. One can only imagine Nijinsky’s creative courage and vision to choreograph Stravinsky’s time signatures where there was no historical references, count or form in ballet. The choreography Nijinsky developed in the Rite of Spring became the foundation of modern dance and gave birth to choreographers as the likes of Martha Graham to Pina Bausch to Hofesh Shechter.

Hundred and two years later Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, Marie Rambert and Nicholas Roerich are still triumphal in telling the story about of our ancient pagan ancestors and their driven instinctive nature for social rituals; the belief that terrible destructive and creative forces of nature must renew its self in order to create the fabric of change, beauty and adaptation to life itself.  Events such as death we cannot escape or completely comprehend.  What we do know about the past and human mortality, scientifically, human genetic markers can trace our existence and traits thousands of years back in time to haplogroups made up of ancient clans or tribes that gave birth to our ritual heritage.  Such an indelible mark is the Rite of Spring.

All Rights Reserved: Richard A. Peña 2015  (except embedded YouTube Video of Millicent Hodson 1987 reconstruction)

 

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