The Rite of Spring had its scandalous first performance at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées on May 29, 1913, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. It was performed just seven times, four in Paris and three in London. In 1987, the Joffrey Ballet restaged the ballet, in a reconstruction of Nijinsky’s choreography by dance historian Millicent Hodson with art historian Kenneth Archer.
The reconstruction is controversial: Nijinsky did not notate his choreography, which was considered lost. Hodson and Archer based their research on sketches, photographs, memories, annotated musical scores and letters. There was necessarily a lot of educated guesswork in putting the ballet back on stage. Nevertheless, this reconstruction, which has been performed around the world, by companies including the Maryinsky Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, is often promoted as the “original” Nijinsky choreography.
Tamara Nijinsky points out that “the family of Vaslav Nijinsky have never received any authors’ royalty or rights for this work, which Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer claim as their own, citing the fact that Nijinsky never annotated his choreography and that their reconstitution is their own ‘property’.” She argues that, since publicity for the reconstruction has focused on the Nijinsky name, his heirs have a claim on this revived work. Hodson and Archer have gone on to reconstruct Nijinsky’s ballets Jeux and Till Eulenspiegel, and plan to recreate the choreographer’s “last dance”, an improvised solo he performed just once to a small audience in 1919, which was neither notated nor photographed.
This year, as part of the centenary celebrations for The Rite of Spring, the Maryinsky Ballet will dance the Hodson-Archer reconstruction at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées on May 29. Under French legislation covering authors’ rights, and with the influence of the theatre and the French society of authors and composers, Tamara Nijinsky will receive legal recognition for her father’s work.
She will attend the centenary event in Paris, the first time she has been present for a performance of the reconstruction. She will also be honoured by the French government with the order of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, for the work she has undertaken on behalf of the Vaslav and Romola Nijinsky Foundation, which she founded in 1991.
Picture: Dancers of the Ballets Russes in the original production of The Rite of Spring