It was 100 years ago that Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky premiered their ballet (music and choreography respectfully) to a rather astonished and somewhat riotous audience in Paris. Despite receiving a mixed reception the controversy surrounding The Rite of Spring has allowed it to become one of the most reproduced ballets. It has almost developed into a rite of passage for aspiring choreographers. The Rite of Spring has become a rite and a ritual in itself. Over the century there have been many productions and adaptations, and I have mentioned just a fraction of them in this blog. However, there are a few more that are worthy of note.
One appearance of The Rite which must be mentioned is in the animated classic Disney’s Fantasia from 1940. Released less than 30 years after The Rite of Spring’s dubious premiere, Fantasia made use of Stravinsky’s score in telling the story of the evolution of the earth, tracking the reign of the dinosaurs to their extinction. By including Stravinsky’s score alongside famed pieces, such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Beethoven’s The Pastoral Symphony and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, The Rite of Spring and Stravinsky was thusly ranked amongst some of the most popular and widely acclaimed classical compositions and composers. This was The Rite’s first introduction into mainstream entertainment and popular culture.
As one might expect there are a number of special performances of The Rite of Spring this year celebrating the centenary. Here at Southbank Centre have celebrated with multiple orchestral performances of The Rite, along with other musical masterpieces by Stravinsky, and Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle – a solo ballet performed by Paul White, which explores the conflicting forces of nature and man, masculinity and femininity, violence and nurturing, strength and vulnerability.
Other notable 2013 productions of The Rite of Spring include the trio of dance performances on at Sadler’s Wells, as part of ‘The String of Rites‘. I have already discussed one of these, Keegan Dolan’s enlightening version, but the other two are also worth a mention. The Riot Offspring is a project developed and choreographed by Sébastian Ramirez, Mafalda Deville, Ivan Blackstock, Simeon Qsyea, and Pascal Merighi. Danced by the National Youth Dance Company, along with amateurs of varying ages, The Riot Offspring is not only a celebration of Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring, but also a celebration of international dance, with a 100 strong inter-generational cast.
Alongside this Sadler’s Wells hosts a new production by Akram Khan, entitled iTMOi (In the mind of Igor), a production which does not use Stravinsky’s music. Instead it features an original score by three contemporary composers. The dance does not tell the same story as The Rite of Spring, but alternatively considers Stravinsky’s transformation of classical music, exploring the human condition and emotion rooted in the idea of a woman sacrificing herself by dancing to death.
The last 2013 production I would like to mention is one which comes from the States. Choreographer Douglas Martin has re-imaged The Rite in a 1960s setting. Danced by the American Repertory Ballet, Martin’s production is more theatrical than some versions, with it being based in a New York advertisement agency. Think Mad Men with balletic movement! To some extend Martin has jumped on the bandwagon pulled by the popular TV show Mad Men, but he does have an understanding of the heritage of The Rite of Spring. Martin danced in the Joffrey reproduction of Nijinsky’s original in 1987. His experience of The Rite has allowed him to still convey the essence of tribalism and ritualised behaviour in his ballet. His Rite explores the way in which the 1960s work place was a scene of dominated and repressed ‘office girls’ and competitive testosterone-fuelled men. The brutal competition amongst the men in an ad agency with the ritual combat of rival tribes is the basis for the story. Martin’s Rite depicts what happens when one of the ad men is defeated by his peers and, to everyone’s consternation, a woman moves in for the kill.
There a numerous versions of The Rite of Spring out there. These are but a few that I have shared with you, and I am sure that in another 100 years time there will be many many more productions to discuss.