The Rite of Spring 1913

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

The Sacrifice:
Mystic Circles of the Young Girls
The glorification of the Chosen One
An evocation of the Ancestors
Ritual Action of the Ancestors
Sacrificial Dance

It was a cool Parisian evening walk down the Avenue Montaigne to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which only a Russian like Diaghilev could appreciate.  In 1913, the 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 calls out the source of our anthropologic primitive heritage, our notions of why humans dance, along with the inner pulse of our basic communal instincts and rituals. Stravinsky and Nijinsky channeled the primitive impulses, 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 began in 1908 with Stravinsky setting to music two poems from Sergey Gorodetsky’s collection “Yar.”  Another poem by the name of “Yarila” in the anthology may have also influenced Stravinsky’s imagination.  Many of the elements in Yarila were similar to the 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“.  When Stravinsky collaborated with Nicholas Roerich, the foremost Russian expert on folk art and ancient rituals, 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, where 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 allowed him to use all of his creative ability as a dancer and 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 was also of Polish lineage. 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 composing 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’s most notable symphonic works.

Since that fateful evening of May 29th, 1913, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has now taken its place as a standard symphonic masterpiece that has never 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 grit to move forward with his vision to choreograph Stravinsky’s time signatures where there were no historical references, counts, or forms in ballet. The choreography Nijinsky developed in the Rite of Spring became the foundation of modern dance and gave birth to choreographers such as the likes of Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, and Crystal Pite.

Over a hundred and two years later, Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, Marie Rambert, and Nicholas Roerich are still triumphal in telling the story about our ancient pagan ancestors and their driven instinctive nature for social rituals. Solidifying the reflexive human belief is that nature’s terrible destructive and creative forces must renew themselves to create the fabric of change, beauty, and adaptation to life itself.  We cannot entirely escape or comprehend our demise’s exact timing in events such as death. Yet, at least scientifically and anthropologically, we know about our past and mortality in that human genetic markers can trace our existence and traits back thousands of years 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, The Rite of Spring 1913 © Richard Anthony Peña 2015  (except embedded YouTube Video of Millicent Hodson 1987 reconstruction)

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