Have you ever seen a dance performance so exciting it swept you away?
Seeing the ballet, The Rite of Spring—set to the adrenaline-pumping music of Igor Stravinsky—with its pagan rituals, eroticism, and evocation of the universal life cycle of life, death and rebirth overwhelmed us. On a photography shoot for the North Carolina Dance Theatre some years ago, we captured images during rehearsals of artistic director/choreographer Sal Aiello’s version of the ballet. Later, we saw the entire performance on stage—an unforgettable spectacle!
The Russian composer created the music in 1913 for a ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Its scandalous premiere that year in Paris caused a riot among outraged spectators—and shock waves in the music and dance worlds that are still felt today. Stravinsky’s incongruous, asymmetrical rhythms and dissonant harmonies, the dancers’ non-traditional costumes and Nijinsky’s sensual, “anti-ballet” choreography confused and disturbed those in the theatre that evening.
Despite its initial reception, The Rite of Spring is universally regarded as a modern masterpiece. Stravinsky, in fact, had altered the language of music and given birth to an avant-garde movement. The score has inspired countless composers and assumed its place as a canonic work in the orchestral repertoire. Furthermore, it has been choreographed more than any other music of the past century.
This year marks the centennial of The Rite of Spring, an event that’s being celebrated by performing arts companies worldwide. For example, Carolina Performing Arts, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has organized a nine-month festival titled The Rite of Spring at 100. (www.theriteofspringat100.org). The festival is featuring works that re-create or re-imagine the masterpiece. Additionally, The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (www.uncsa.edu/performances), located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and one of America’s leading conservatories, will present a contemporary version of The Rite of Spring by Korean choreographer, Shen Wei.
The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet (www.joffrey.org) will be performing a re-creation of the 1913 performance, by dance historian and choreographer Millicent Hodson. Both the Houston Ballet (www.houstonballet.org) and San Francisco Ballet (www.sfballet.org) will premiere their own versions this year. And the Bejart Ballet Lausaune (www.bejart.ch) will feature Maurice Bejart’s 1959 choreography of the masterpiece (excerpts are viewable on YouTube). The list goes on and on.
If you check out the performance calendars of dance companies in your area, you might well find a performance.