Friday, August 7, 2009

Sacre Faire!

What can you say of a ballet that was first performed in 1913 that caused a riot at its first performance? Savoir Faire! Le Sacre du Printemps choreographed by Nijinsky with music by Stravinsky, under the eye of impresario Diaghilev did just that! This was such a departure from previous works by the Ballet Russe. There was such a scandal at its premiere in Paris, that there was threat that the ballet would not finish.. The music's innovative complex rhythmic structures, timbres, and use of dissonance have made it a seminal 20th century composition. The scandal of a riot at its 1913 premiere made it one of the most internationally well-known and controversial works in performance history.

The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying. Nijinsky had to stand on a chair shouting counts to the dancers who were unable to hear the orchestra.

The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario—a setting of scenes from pagan Russia—shocked audiences more accustomed to the demure conventions of classical ballet. Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography was a radical departure from classical ballet, with jerking angular movements left the audience bewildered and angry. The costumes were unflattering and the makeup was harsh. The most brilliant male dancer (possibly ever), Nijinsky could almost be called the father of modern dance, for this and other works he had choreographed.

Luckily the riots and the controversy that it caused, ensured that the work would continue to be performed. Most of the original choreography has been reconstructed and reinterpreted, however the elements of the original are still there.
Set designs by Nicholas Roerich are below.


  1. I would love to wear that costume today! Right now. The masses do not like change...which is sad and frustrating. I'm on my local symphony board...anytime we try to include a piece that is not well known...the torches start burning!

  2. Ahh...the genius of Nijinsky. Thanks for this one!

  3. Laura-Nijinsky is one of my idols! Will be doing some more posts on him soon!

    Jill- I also think the costume is rather cool! Yes the masses are just content with the status quo, push the board for those pieces you would like played!


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