Today The Rite of Spring is regarded as a revolutionary piece of music and choreograph. Its choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, was born in 1889. He started his dance career after he joined the Imperial Ballet School in 1900, in which he studied under Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat. He took many lead roles until his dance career took a turning point, and met Sergei Diaghilev. He danced with famous Anna Pavlova, as a lead in the Ballets Russes in Paris, and also starred in Fokine’s pieces “Le Pavillon d’Armide,” “Cleopatra,” and “The Feast. He then went on to choreograph his own ballets, such as “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune” (The Afternoon of a Faun) and “The Rite of Spring” (“Russian Ballet History”). Most of Nijinsky’s works were created far before the time they could be appreciated. The Rite of Spring, however, led to modern dance. The music in this dance was composed by Igor Stravinsky, which also played a revolutionary role in modern dance (Anderson). The Rite of Spring referred as “Pictures of Pagan Russia” was first preformed on May 29, 1913 at the Theater des Champs-Elysees located in Paris.
Most, if not all ballets, during this era consisted of mystical and fantasy like moves and story lines. Previous choreographs were composed of beautiful ballerinas which usually represented a mystical creature, such as Swan Lake. A girl played the role of a beautiful swan. The ballerina danced with beautiful grace in what is today known as classical ballet. The arms are beautifully kept up with minimal movement while the legs do most of the work, both lightly jumping and gracefully coming down.
Beautiful twirls in which most of the time the dancers look as if they’re never on the ground. In these classical ballets, in which people were accustomed too, never had a story line that did not end happily. The Rite of Spring, however, goes a complete different direction. This dance is about the celebration and welcoming of spring with the sacrifice of a young lady. From the very beginning of the dance of The Rite of Spring, I had no idea what to expect. The dance is divided into two different acts, the first being “The Adoration of the Earth. As the curtain rises it reveals men and women in separate groups, which makes great use of the stage because it is used up entirely, yet still leaving enough room for the dancers to move freely. Their surroundings and costumes are primitive, and there is an automatic dark eerie mood set. The dances are very light hearted. This is apparent from the very beginning of this piece, an elderly man is frozen as the music plays. He eventually dances toward the different groups of dancers on stage. Besides the loud thuds that the dancers make with their feet, the dancers gracefully move around the stage.
A group of girls dressed in red, are in a vertical line across the stage and they dance on their toes slightly moving their head back and forth, as they bring their legs up to their knees. A second group joins them gracefully. As the music becomes more aggressive so do their movements. For example, as the powerful dark drumbeats take over in the music, the dancers moves are a lot faster and more articulated than previously. This is defined in the part where the dancers are actually having contact with each other. They give the impression that the men are fighting.
Meanwhile, some women are cautiously watching from the ground swaying side to side and the quickly jump up which shows the panic and stress within them. A wise old man enters the stage all the dancers freeze, which gives of the impression that he is there to create peace, however, the scene becomes more chaotic. An example of this would be when the men throw themselves on the floor, rise, and repeat it. They then dance around him with their hand up in the air with pointed pigeon feet at all times. This act ends as the dancers surround the old man.
The second act is called “The Sacrifice. ” This act starts with the women dancing in a circle gracefully. They then intertwine with each other making movements using mostly their pelvis. The climax of the dance is reached when they suddenly start dancing furiously as “the chosen girl” is picked. The chosen girl stands in the middle of the circle with her toes pointed in with a frightened face. The transition in and out of these movements are done very smoothly with the help of the music. The instruments lightly play smoothing parts as the dancers interpret the lighthearted music.
As the walk in circles, the music plays very staccato and then staggering drums join. The dancers dance to the music, stomping, kicking and jumping harshly to show the frustration and sacrifice they are about to do. At times however, there are several sections that break off suddenly and do not come to a finalized closed. For example, when the women randomly stop dancing after the chosen girl is chosen, and other dancers enter the stage and mysteriously dance around her. The chosen girl then dances passionately, as if she were fighting for her life, and trying to fight these other people and or run away.
Her fear is shown when she stands in the center of the stage quivering with her toes pointed in while in a squat position. She looks wild. Her moves are unpredictable. The girl dances to death and the whole dance finishes as she is carried away. The music is extremely different from the very start opening with a high-pitched melody of what seems a bassoon. The dancers make their way onto the stage by repeatedly stomping. As the dance progresses the dances get more and more aggressive, almost savage like. Through out the dance their feet are always flexed and pointed out.
The dancers were continuously jumping off the ground very low. They landed very hard, disregarding their weight and making loud thuds, giving the dance even more aggression, and adding to the music. Their hands dangled very heavily by their side. It is almost hard to believe that this choreography is considered ballet because it is the complete opposite. Ballet is composed of graceful, and elegant movements that look as if the dancers are floating in air, and the toes are poised and pointed at all times. Nijinsky went again all the “rules” of ballet.
With The Rite of Spring, he created a new form of grace. The dancers are full of energy. The choreography is mirrored by the rhythmic music composed with dark and powerful drumbeats. As the music accelerates the movements also get a lot faster and faster. When the music pauses, which gives the dance a mysterious feeling, the dancers follow. At the beginning of this piece, the music is very soft which slightly of lulls the audience. Suddenly the dance gets wild along with the music, which keeps people on their toes constantly, not knowing what to expect.
The music is composed of woodwinds, dark drumbeats, and what I believe to be trumpets. There are sudden breaks within this piece, which cause the dancers to pause as well, but they then go back to the same rhythm and beat as well as dance moves. This all occurs as if there had been no pause or interruption at all. This made me feel tense at some point and uneasy, which probably made the rest of the audience feel the same. This is illustrated when the men, in the dark bird hats, stop their dancing and then the chosen girl suddenly starts dancing a few seconds right after.
There is no room to relax within the piece even within breaks because of the unexpected chaotic music, which frequently felt as if the air was being pushed out of me. For example, when the girl was chosen to be sacrificed the music was much more intensified, but after she had danced herself to death, an instrument plays softly in the background that probably represents the loss of life. In this section, there was no transition within the music, it just occurred out of nowhere. As the curtain raises the screechy music, the colorful set is revealed. It fully portrays the forces of nature.
There is big hill, or mountain, as part of the set with a gray sky covered in black clouds. There is also dark shadows and rock painted into the set. The costumes enhance the primitiveness of the dance. They hang loosely on the dancer, and look like potato sacs. The costumes are very long and cover almost their entire body. However, because of the articulateness of the dance and energy the dancers give off, it is almost impossible to not see their staggered and real precise movements. This shocked the audience because they were used to elegant and beautiful colors of the previous ballets.
The garments on the dancers such as the hats the men wore, bandanas the women wore, or the pointed orange hats and long black bird pieces the men wore gave them a relevance of who they were in accordance to the role they played in the dance. This is shown specifically in the wise old man that appears in the choreography before the girl is chosen to be scarified. He is not dressed like anybody else, which automatically gives the impression that he is important. He has a long white beard, and unlike the other men who wore distinct hats, this man wore a simple headband around his head.
The white beard and the cane stated he was old, and the way the dancers froze as soon as he arrived as opposed to how the had previously shows that he is wise and is highly respected among them. Right after this wise old man got down to the floor and then got up to gaze up into the sky, the stage became chaos. Shown by the way the dancers roamed the stage kicking and punching the air. The makeup on the dancers is very dramatic and detailed. The chosen girl alone, had a pale wait face, very dark smoky black eyes, blood red lips, and silver cheeks. It is very easily seen.
The lighting was minimal; it was a very dark staged dance, specifically in act two. The beginning of the dance had a lot more lighting than at the end. As the dance goes on and becomes more appalling, the lighting gets darker, and darkest as the climax of the dance is reached. The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and composed by Igor Stravinsky pushed to the outer most edge of what was considered dance in the 1900’s. Only to be preformed eight times, by the Ballet Russes Company at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, is now considered a revolutionary piece of art, which led to today’s modern art (Anderson).
This piece was only performed eight times because it became infamous for causing riots. I believe it caused so much disparagement from the audience because they were not ready for this kind of music. This was the first time instruments and dancers used such harsh sounding effects, danced to irregular rhythms, and used hostile dynamics. It made them feel uneasy and tense. They were dependent on the fairly movements and romantic stories that previous ballets had, and when The Rite of Springs was presented to them they hated it.
The Rite of Spring was later recreated by The Joffrey Ballet Company in 1987, and is now worldly appreciated by those who watch it (Anderson). The first time I watched it, I also did not like it. If I had not watched this piece of art again I would have said ” it’s not ballet, or even dance. ” I have grown to like and appreciate this piece as I watched and analyzed it more. The disorder that it created at is time simply shows that it was ahead of its time. Art should be appreciated simply because it IS art.