After the Revolution

January 31, 2013

Le Sacre du Printemps
(The Rite of Spring) was the ballet that shook the world. One hundred years ago, the chic crowd in Paris booed or cheered, argued loudly, and even came to blows. Nijinsky stood on a chair and yelled out the counts to keep the Ballets Russes dancers going, while Diaghilev commanded the audience, “Let them finish the performance!” According to legend, the riot continued out in the street.

Was it Stravinsky’s jagged, haunting, crashing music that riled them? Or was it Nijinsky’s primitivism: the turned-in feet and huddled circles oblivious to the outside world? Or maybe it was the idea of the sacrifice where the Chosen One brutally “dances” herself to death?

Accounts differ, and we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that Stravinsky’s earth-cracking Rite of Spring has become the mountain that many choreographers feel challenged to climb—more than 30 by our count. We’ve chosen 18 of them for this photo essay to mark the centenary of the original Sacre du Printemps at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on May 29, 1913.

Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in
Vaslav Nijinsky
‘s original
Sacre du Printemps (1913).

Photo from the Dance Magazine Archives.

“As the ballet looked back to the dawn of human life, so…it also looked into the future: to a war that unleashed the accumulated evil in men’s souls and to a society ruled by the machine. In this sense, Sacre was a harbinger of modernity: of its assembly lines and masses, its war machines and cities of slain innocents. Stripped of their costumes, Nijinsky’s masses were both the agents and victims of twentieth-century barbarism.” —Lynn Garafola in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes

Left: Martha Graham as the Chosen One in
Leonide Massine
Sacre du Printemps (1920) in 1930. Photo from unknown source; Right: Wendy Whelan, as guest artist with Louisville Ballet in Adam Hougland‘s Rite of Spring (2009). Photo by Dave Howard, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

Heddy Maalem
‘s Toulouse-based company, with dancers from all over Africa, in his
Le Sacre du Printemps (2004) in 2008. Photo by Ben Rudick, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in
Pina Bausch
Frühlingsopfer (Rite of Spring) (1975). Photo still from the film PINA (2012).

Hamburg Ballet in
John Neumeier
Le Sacre (1972). Photo © F. Peyer, DM Archives.

Ballet Preljocaj in
Angelin Preljocaj
The Rite of Spring (2001).

Photo by Regine Will, Courtesy BAM.

Shen Wei Dance Arts in
Shen Wei
Rite of Spring (2003). Photo by Bruce R. Feely, DM Archives.

Left: Paul White in
Meryl Tankard
The Oracle (2009). Photo by Regis Lansac, Courtesy Skirball; Right: Carlos Acosta in Houston Ballet’s 1997 production of Glen Tetley‘s Sacre du Printemps (1974), created for Munich Ballet. Photo by Drew Donovan, DM Archives.

Nashville Ballet in a 2012 performance of
Salvatore Aiello
Rite of Spring (1995).

Photo by Marianne Leach, Courtesy NB.

Reconstruction of
Vaslav Nijinsky
‘s original
Sacre du Printemps (1913) by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, 1987, for Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, DM Archives.

“As I envisaged the primitiveness of the tribal rites, where the Chosen Maiden must die to save the earth, I felt that my body must draw into itself, must absorb the fury of the hurricane. Strong, brusque, spontaneous movements seemed to fight the elements as the Chosen Maiden protected the earth against the menacing heavens. The Chosen Maiden danced as if possessed, as she must until her frenzied dance in the primitive sacrificial ritual kills her.” —Bronislava Nijinska, the sister of the choreographer and originator of the role, Early Memoirs

English National Ballet in a 2012 performance of
Kenneth MacMillan
Rite of Sping (1962). Photo by Arnaud Stephenson, Courtesy ENB.

Dutch National Ballet in
Van Manen
Sacre du Printemps (1974).

Photo © Jorge Fatauros, DM Archives.

Left: Dominique Porte in
Marie Chouinard
Le Sacre du Printemps (1993). Photo by Chouinard, Courtesy Chouinard; Right: Molissa Fenley in her own State of Darkness (1988).

Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in a 2008 performance of
Stijn Celis
Rite (2005), originally for Bern Ballet. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy Cedar Lake.

Boston Ballet in
Jorma Elo
Sacre du Printemps (2009). (Yes, those are real flames.)

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy BB.