Stravinsky and Nijinsky

Igor Stravinky’s ballet The Rite of Spring was first performed in Paris in 1913. It’s well-known that the performance was not a success. There was a tremendous uproar in the audience. Objects were thrown at the performers. Fights broke out. The house lights were eventually turned on to quiet the crowd. The performance continued, while some 40 members of the audience were ejected. 

I’ve always thought that it was Stravinsky’s violent modern music that was the source of the trouble. Apparently that isn’t true. From today’s New York Times:

“It was not Stravinsky’s music that did the shocking. It was the ugly earthbound lurching and stomping devised by Vaslav Nijinsky, the greatest dancer in the troupe but a novice choreographer, that offended the Paris public, for whom ballet was all about swans and tutus and elevation. Once the whistlers and hooters got going, nobody even heard the music. Most of the reviews paid no attention to Stravinsky beyond naming him as the composer before turning with gusto to the weird antics onstage and the weirder ones in the hall”.

The Rite of Spring was performed with less turmoil a few more times in Paris and then in London. But it wasn’t until the work was performed the following year in a concert hall in Russia, without the dancers, that it became a success.

Costumes worn by some of the dancers who raised a ruckus in Paris:


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