Programming / Dance
There are people who work to achieve major works and who tirelessly copy the great masters of the past to succeed.
There are people who work to achieve works that are important to them and who don’t care about the great masters of the past when they work – well, no – they don’t care about copying them.
Stravinsky is in the number two category and I bet you anything that he had no idea that a century later he would be elevated to the rank of: great master of the past, tirelessly copied by authors in search of greatness.
He presented this ballet, The Rite of Spring, for the first time in Paris, in 1913.
It should have been a phenomenal success.
The French love the Russians – especially if they can dream of the Tsar, the Tsarina and all the Slavic folklore.
The choreography was by Nijinsky and the dancers were from Serge de Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe.
We were already there, carried away by the pretty ballerinas coming from the cold countries, with their big blond braids and their so colored outfits, white, red, green, blue, colors as raw as the countries which saw them being born. We were going to be enchanted by the Russian soul – the Slavs are so romantic, so deep in their despair –
We were going to be carried away by the violins and the pounding rain notes of the pianos in the Chopin style – it was going to be so sad and so delicious.
And then it wasn’t.
A horror is what it was.
A pure atrocity.
Listen to the beginning!
The very, very, very, beginning is perfect: delicate, playful, subtle, so Russian spirit, so perfect for Paris – and then, around the 4th minute…, when the curtain rises and the dancers appear, the catastrophe appears too.
But what is this barbarity?
What are these atrocious, primitive sounds on the beautiful stages of Paris?
In the 5th minute, the evil was irreparable. Unbearable.
Can you imagine that, feel that ? : endure one minute of these things which dared to be called : dance!
The audience screamed so much that Stravinsky quickly left the hall.
The dancers could no longer hear the music and Nijinsky was shouting at them to indicate the place.
In France, we are used to this.
We love new things, as long as they are old.
We scream at every real novelty.
We had already had the blow at the theatre – well, to say the truth, it happens all the time. At the premiere of “Hernani” in 1830 – with a death in a duel to close the chapter: dirty iconoclasts, we thought we were saved – but they always come back, it’s like a curse on the so, so sweet & chic and cultured France.
Then, no – The Rite of Spring did not please Paris in 1913. Not at all – not even a little.
A pure scandal.
The story, with this, is quite atrocious.
Here are the pagan gods coming back to the fore.
Grotesque contortions – perfectly.
And I’m not even talking about the second act, where the Sacrifice of the Chosen One is performed… in the middle of prehistory, that’s where Stravinsky wanted to put Paris.
Of course – that was in 1913.
Now Stavinsky is the “new” god to follow.
And in order to be absolutely astonishingly original and provocative, one must – yes sir, one must – do as Stravinsky did and shock the middle class.
Not to make fun of it at all – I think this state of mind might have amused Stravinsky – or it would have annoyed him.
He didn’t want to shock – he shocked because he did what he wanted to do.
And now that we can hope that all this anti-first, for-second madness is over, we should be able to take great pleasure in going to see The Rite of Spring – by a bloody great composer, choreographed by a dance monster and telling a quite appalling story that reminds us in passing that our relationship with nature is not – but not at all – quiet and trusting…
Featured Image : first dancers of The Rite of Spring : Julitska, Rambert, Jejerska, Boni, Boniecka, Faithful, in costumes by Nicholas Roerich – in The Sketch, London, 1913 – aren’t they so lovely, these dancers ?