by Steven Woodruff
An envoy for 100 years of Le Sacre du Printemps
Dance and other art forms periodically go through times of transition during which it becomes easy to offend or sink the status quo. Like science or politics , the arts need change to survive and not every composer or choreographer will find himself arriving at just the right point in time with the ability or desire to push it over the edge. Both Bach and Mozart made brilliant careers with music that summed up an era, but neither was an iconoclast. The unexpected brilliance of Stravinsky’s music for Rite of Spring is something of a permanent monument. I think it will always overshadow choreographers making new dance for it. He was there first.
I wrote the following review of Rite of Spring for the recent Joffrey Ballet performance of in Los Angeles. I had seen them on the same stage in 1987 with the historic cast that created the filmed version of the ballet.
The following is Judith Mackrell’s review in the Guardian of Akram Khan’s up-to- the-minute version of the ballet titled iTMOi. It replaces the original score and uses newly composed music limning roughly a similar scenario. The title acronym stands for “in the mind of Igor”.
And finally, here is a drawing by Nicholas Roerich of costuming from the original Rite of Spring. The drawings show not only the costumes but the physical attitudes of the dancers with closed arms, tilted heads, and turned in feet. While he and Nijinsky thought of the ballet’s libretto in terms of a story, Stravinsky said his idea for the music was not “anecdotal, but architectonic”. That idea for ballet music as structural and abstract would eventually find perfect expression in some of Balanchine’s plotless ballets to later works such as the Violin Concerto and Symphony in Three Movements music among others.
There is probably no other piece of music that has changed us so profoundly. Copland thought it the signature work of the Twentieth Century. Much as been made of the outrages of that first performance in 1913. Those who saw it said the dancing wasn’t even dancing. The ballet was panned as awful. It’s more likely that it was probably the audience that was awful. We’ve gotten a lot better in the 100 years since that first performance.