The Rite of Spring Turns 100 Today

Dancers in costume for the Joffrey's reconstruction of "Rite of Spring" (photo by Herbert Migdoll)

The Joffrey’s reconstructed”Rite of Spring” (photo by Herbert Migdoll)

100 years ago today, the Ballets Russes premiered Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, in Paris. It caused a riot.

No—literally.

The audience just didn’t know what to make of the work, which was dissonant and rough and not at all like the pretty stuff they were used to seeing on the ballet stage. (To give you a sense of what they did expect, one of the most popular ballets at the time was Les Sylphides—all delicate bourrées and long white tutus. In fact, it was on the program with Rite that night.)

Seriously, can you imagine that happening today? Brawls breaking out after a ballet premiere? People slugging each other because they’re confused by music and choreography? It must have been a totally wild scene. And it speaks to the revolutionary nature of Rite, which in many ways changed how the world thought about ballet.

Since then, there have been hundreds of versions of Rite performed by dance companies all over the world. But the Nijinsky’s choreography was actually lost for more than 70 years. It wasn’t until 1987, when the Joffrey Ballet premiered a painstaking reconstruction of the work, that modern audiences were able to see what all the fuss was about.

Happy 100th, Rite! To celebrate, here’s a recording (in three parts) of a 1989 performance of the Joffrey’s reconstruction. See if it makes as much of an impact on you as it did on that 1913 audience:

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