Weekly Watch: Le Sacré du Printemps



Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring", choreographed as a ballet by Vaslav Nijinsky, was first performed in Paris in 1913. It sparked a riot. This is not at all what audiences in 1913 thought of as ballet, and the audience made their displeasure known by shouting at the dancers so loudly that the orchestra couldn't be heard. Nijinsky had to stand backstage and stamp out the beats so the dancers could continue their work.

This performance is a 1987 reconstruction by the Joffrey Ballet. Why a reconstruction, you ask? Well, nobody took any movies of it in 1913, although the technology existed. Also, it turns out Nijinsky was rubbish at documenting his choreography. There were quite a number of contemporary reviews -- all of them bad, some of them angry -- and one artist at the premiere who happened to make a few sketches from up in the first balcony.

Other than that, well... The New York Times, among other places, published an article about how you reconstruct choreography, but basically, you make a lot of educated guesses. The reconstruction of Le Sacré du Printemps is informed by modern dance, which is essentially what it is, but mostly it's just kind of doing things that look like they might have made a post-Edwardian audience mad.

From a present-day perspective, the most unusual part of the ballet is probably the costumes. Those are actually the most authentic. They're of a just post-Art Nouveau, pre-Art Deco style that nobody ever develops nostalgia for, because it looks that weird on everyone.

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