Getting It Rite: Re-Choreographing “The Rite of Spring”

Above: The conclusion of the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of The Rite of Spring in Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography.

When you hear Igor Stravinsky’s music for the ballet The Rite of Spring, delicate springtime flowers nor frilly white tutus probably don’t spring (no pun intended) to mind. More likely, the driving rhythms and dissonant harmonies of Stravinsky’s score conjure images of chaos, violence and destruction.

If so, then you’ve pretty much got the gist of it.

The fruit of one of the all-time great artistic collaborations, The Rite of Spring takes as its setting ancient pagan Russia and as its subject matter the rite of virgin sacrifice upon the auguries of spring. It’s a ballet about nature, the coarseness of humanity’s primal instincts and our ultimately deadly desire to bend the whims of fate and the deities to our wills.

Stravinsky’s music for The Rite of Spring is at once vulgar and stunningly brilliant, chaotic-sounding yet coherent and refined with almost mathematical precision. However you look at it, Stravinsky’s music for The Rite of Spring  is challenging. But if you think listening to the music is difficult, try dancing to it or – maybe worse yet – making up dances for it.

In the year marking the 100th anniversary of the riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring, Judith Mackrell, dance critic of the British newspaper The Guardian, spoke with several of today’s choreographers to find out how they came up with new dances for Stravinsky’s iconic score.

From Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Celtic-inspired choreography, to Klaus Obermaier’s “digital” ballet intended to be watched through 3-D glasses, contemporary choreographers are showing that the The Rite of Spring‘s iconoclastic spirit inspires creativity that carries dance forward into new terrain. The result is now a tradition of cutting-edge ballets created in response to The Rite of Spring, a tradition that choreographer Javier De Frutos told The Guardian he’s proud to be a part of.

… with one part of yourself, you have to forget the others who’ve worked on Rite – you have to own it. But I also have a huge sense of pride in being part of the long line of choreographers who’ve attempted to conquer Stravinsky’s music. We’ve all pitched ourselves against the terror of his score.

View video clips from several cutting-edge ballets inspired by The Rite of Spring: The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells: it Takes You to So many Places (Guardian)

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