The legend has it that Igor Stravinsky received an idea for his famous ballet in his sleep. Whether or not this is true, the potency of his imagination and the ability to bring it to the material world of music and dance has never ceased to astonish the audience. It could be a huge disappointment, like that at the ballet’s first night in Paris on May 29, 1913 – or it could be a genuine amazement that subsequently engulfed the public. So much did it amaze people that a street in Montreuil where Stravinsky lived and composed Le Sacre du Printemps was renamed after the ballet. There is no Romeo and Juliet Street anywhere, is there?
|Nicholai Roerich, The Rite of Spring (Wikimedia Commons)|
This was probably the peak of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes time in Paris. Despite the public reaction, Dyaghilev himself was convinced that in reality the spectators had already understood the cultural value of the ballet, and time would let them acknowledge it fully. As it happens, he was correct although the immediate impact was far from favourable, including Nizhinsky’s breakdown.
Stravinsky co-wrote the libretto with one of the most original artists of the period, Nicholai Roerich, who also created stage decorations and costumes for the ballet. Today the sketches and costumes are exhibited at theatre museums.
The ballet’s 100th anniversary is celebrated worldwide today, with the autograph of the first page of the score being shared on the Internet. An excellent article in The Guardian by George Benjamin studies the intricancies of the score and how they reflected the great age of scientific, industrial, and cultural advances, about to collapse in the fire of the World War One.
The Riotous Premiere is fully dedicated to the Parisian first night, while also allowing to explore the score in depth. However, the growing popularity and the number of renditions somewhat justify the fear of The Guardian’s author that the performance that used to be a Titanic labour even to Stravinsky is now becoming more and more accessible and routine.
Perhaps, not everything is lost for the ballet itself: Sasha Waltz, a renowned German choreographer whose exploits also rage the public from time to time staged the anniversary performance at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, on air today at TV Kultura channel in Russia. Waltz’s version is characterised by almost unstoppable movement, without well-known classical pas, and the music is punctuated by the moments of silence, as if to better expose the beauty of this fantastic score. Waltz withstood a temptation to undress her dancers; instead she covered the stage with soil, to better reflect the dynamics of the Russian pagan dances. In her own words, Waltz had to search for suitable images to reflect the impetuous music that changes its rhythm, colour, and quality all the time. “For me this was a challenge“, she explained.
The orchestra at tonight’s Russian premiere is led by Valery Gergiev.
|Igor Stravinsky, An Autograph of the First Page of the Score
to The Rite of Spring (courtesy of the Paul Sacher Stiftung
via Igor Stravinsky Facebook Page)