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A century of spring

Posted on November 1, 2012


riteofspringprivatecollectionrogerviolletparisbridgemanartlibraryThe Rite of Spring had its infamous first performance on May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Igor Stravinsky’s music and Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography (pictured) caused an outcry. A century on from that riotous evening, The Rite of Spring will be celebrated around the world, with ballets, concerts, education projects and more.

“People shouted insults, howled and whistled, drowning the music,” remembered the artist Valentine Gross, who attended the first performance. “There was slapping and even punching… I thought there was something wonderful about the titanic struggle which must have been going on to keep those inaudible musicians and those deafened dancers together, in obedience to the laws of their invisible choreographer. The ballet was astoundingly beautiful.”

In 2013, dance companies and orchestras around the world will be performing The Rite of Spring itself, with new works inspired by the ballet and its sensational premiere.

In Paris, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées will host 14 performances of the Rite. On the centenary day itself, the Maryinsky Ballet will dance a double bill of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer’s recreation of the Nijinsky choreography, followed by Sasha Waltz’s new version, both conducted by Valery Gergiev. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dance Bausch’s celebrated version, while Akram Khan will present his iTMOi (in the mind of igor). Inspired by the Rite, this new work features an original score by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost, with designs by Matt Deely and costumes by Kimie Nakano. There will also be orchestral concerts with performances of the score by the Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestra National de France and Rotterdam Philharmonic.

In Russia, the Bolshoi Ballet will mount a festival from March 27 to April 21. It opens in Moscow with a new version choreographed by Wayne McGregor, followed by productions by Nijinsky, Maurice Béjart and Bausch.

In London, in addition to Khan’s iTMOi (in the mind of igor), Sadler’s Wells will present three works: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s award-winning production of The Rite of Spring and a third production, RIOT Offspring, featuring an intergenerational cast of more than 80 non-professional dancers from the local community.

In the US, Carolina Performing Arts at Chapel Hill will mount a season-long festival exploring the ballet’s lasting impact, with performances by Joffrey Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and 11 new works inspired by the Rite. These include commissioned works by the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company and by Medhi Walerski for Nederlands Dans Theater.

The Polish National Ballet dance a Rite triple bill, with versions by Nijinsky, Emanuel Gat and Béjart in a single evening. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch will perform Basuch’s Rite on tour in Taipei, Gothenburg and Naples as well as Paris. A new 30-minute documentary film will be released, with archive footage of Bausch rehearsing the ballet.

There will be many more performances in Europe. In Germany, Stuttgart Ballet revive Glen Tetley’s production, Hamburg Ballet dance John Neumeier’s, the Ballett des Theaters Ulm shows the ballet in a staging by Roberto Scafati, the Ballet of the Semperoper, Dresden dance Jacopo Godani’s production while Ballet Eisenach perform a version by Andris Plucis in Meininger. Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company dance Saarinen’s Hunt on tour in Italy and Germany. In Switzerland, the ballet of the Grand Théâtre de Genève dance a new version by Andonis Foniadakis, and in France, the Ballet de Lorraine dance a production by Ginette Laurin at home and on tour. In Austria, James Wilton will create a new version for the dance company of Graz Opera.

Music publishers Boosey & Hawkes and the Paul Sacher Foundation have announced three special edition volumes to celebrate the centenary: a facsimile of Stravinsky’s autograph full score, a facsimile of the four-hands version for piano and Avatar of Modernity: The Rite of Spring Reconsidered, a book of 18 essays on the ballet, including contributions from dance scholars Lynn Garafola and Stephanie Jordan. All three volumes will be published next May.


Picture: Members of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the original 1913 production of The Rite of Spring. Photograph: private collection/Roger-Viollet, Paris/The Bridgeman Art Library

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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