Rite of Spring (lost ballet choreography manuscript; 1913)


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Rite of Spring (Nijinsky choreography)
A photo from the 1987 revival.
A photo from the 1987 revival.
Status Lost
Joffrey Ballet's restoration, the closest any rendition has gotten to the original 1913 choreography (part 1 of 3).

Rite of Spring is a ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The ballet is famous for its extremely complex composition, with many referring to it as being the work that paved the way for classical works of the majority of the 20th Century.

The ballet had a very erratic style. Stravinsky was strongly influenced by Russian folk as well as several other popular forms of international music of the time. He was a classical traditionalist who had grown bored with the then-still-popular Romanticism going on in music. There was also a very odd choice to use the bassoon as the opening solo instrument to lead the ballet in. The instrument's tone, combined with the odd melodic structure, is known to cause unpleasantness in certain listeners.

Perhaps more famous than the work itself is the premiere it had. By the time the bassoon solo had kicked in, a riot was almost ensuing. Audience members were reportedly so loud that the music could not be heard. Infuriated audience members made cries of betrayal to classical music traditions. The clamoring only got worse as the show proceeded. Stravinsky would count it as an old shame until his older age, when the ballet started being vindicated.

What caused more of a riot than the music itself was the dancing. The choreography was very tribal and ritualistic, something that was almost unheard of in the realm of ballet. The dancers also made very sexually suggestive movements throughout the work, which proved to be quite controversial. The storyline also caused some harsh criticism, as it ended with one of the dancers (a "virgin") being sacrificed.

The sheet music still survives in full, but the original choreography program by Nijinsky has been lost. The original manuscript was misplaced and no other copies could be found. Though Joffrey Ballet made what is believed to be the most accurate reconstruction of the ballet's choreography in the 1980s, exactly how accurate it was is unknown. The reconstruction was based off of descriptions of the dancers movements and some personal accounts of the dancers.

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