Boos and scandal: the 110th anniversary of the Rite of Spring

The night of May 29, 1913, is legendary for the Art. The aggressive reaction of the Parisian public to the first performance of the work The Rite of Spring, by the Ballets Russes, is unparalleled even today and equally questioned. Boos and screams are facts, but if they were against the innovative music and/or choreography of Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky, respectively, no one has reached an agreement even 110 years later. No one disputes its cultural relevance, which remains unsurpassed, even by versions of the ballet’s scandalous debut based on pagan myths about the sacrifice of a young maiden chosen to dance until she dies.

The composer described that “moderate protests against the music could be heard from the beginning”, but apparently the revolt was growing as they did not appreciate in any way Nijisnky’s modern bet for ballet, without any element of classical dance, to the point that the dancers could barely hear the score because of the volume of the audience’s screams, sending the choreographer into hysteria backstage. In other words, the “blame” was heavier on the shoulders of the dancer, who was both controversial and innovative. There are those who argue that the scandal was a marketing ploy designed in detail by businessman Sergei Diaghilev, who knew perfectly well that he had disruptive and revolutionary material in his hands.

What suggests that this was the intention is the fact that the composer wrote in his diary that he and the manager would have been scared and excited by the premiere and that Diaghilev would have even argued that it was “exactly as he wanted”. It will be? Ballerina Lydia Solokova, who was on stage, seems to agree. “They got ready. They didn’t even let the music play for the opening. As soon as I found out that the maestro had positioned himself, the uproar began”, he said in an interview in 1965.

Conspiracy theories grow when they differ between the 40 people arrested and the lack of evidence of mass brawls and/or attacks on the dancers (even with the maestro’s testimony saying that they threw everything on stage). Furthermore, they disagree on when the boos started, with some alleging that it was from the first notes (as Lydia Solokova says) and others when the dancers entered the scene (as Stravinsky alleges when he mentions in his reports that he was the group of Lolitas from knees bent and long braids bouncing up and down”). In the musician’s favor is the fact that when the score was presented a year later as a concert, it received an ovation.

Perhaps for this reason, in general, the “blame” for the alleged failure of 1913 lies with Nijinsky, Diaghilev’s former lover and the object of a complex relationship that would come to an end in the same year, when the dancer impulsively married Romola Pulszky at the end of 1913, accelerating the rift between him and the mentor-manager.

A brilliant classical dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky took up work as a choreographer after the departure of Michel Fokine and immediately proved that he was original, something that in classical ballet is not well received. His partnership with Stravinsky predated his new position, with his performance in the ballet Petrouchka, for example, being considered something close to mythology even today. The sign that Nijinsky was “too modern” came even before The Rite of Spring, with his ballets L’après-midi d’un faune and Jeux, both with music by Claude Debussy, harshly rejected by critics and the public. Therefore, when it was announced that the new ballet would highlight Russian pagan rites, with touches of primitivism and modernity, they left everyone on their toes even before the curtain went up, which is what Lydia Sokolova‘s testimony reinforces.

The Nijinsky “style” was the opposite of ballet. He liked “flat” images like paintings and often emphasized movement on the ground, with feet turned inward, without pointe shoes or high heels. The dancers struggled and struggled to do what he wanted, and in the case of The Rite of Spring, both he and Stravinsky mutually felt that the other didn’t know what he was doing. The composer wrote that the choreographer “had been faced with a task beyond his capacity” and Nijinsky chafed at Stravinsky’s arrogance, claiming that “… so much time is wasted when Stravinsky thinks he is the only one who knows anything about music. When he works with me, he explains the value of black notes, white notes, and the like as if I had never studied music… I wish he would talk more about his music on “Sacre”, not lecture me on theory musical”. The climate behind the scenes proves that the work would be, from the beginning, divisive.

110 years later, every description of that night at the Champs Elysées Theater still seems modern, so it is to be believed that people reacted “badly”. Particularly, even understand the brilliance of the score, I still don’t like the music. Legend has it that when Diaghilev first heard the song he asked Stravinsky if “will it last long like this?” to which he heard a curt reply: “until the end, my dear.”

Among the still confused reports of that important cultural night, there is the courage of the company that danced until the end, despite the turbulence of the public management, perhaps for this reason, to be applauded when it ended. What’s more, there were six more presentations, all without any fanfare.

Nijinsky’s career and personal life were never the same after that May 29, 1913. From the beginning he profoundly challenged the moral standards of the time, in 1912 his L’après-midi d’un faune, with music by Claude Debussy was remembered for simulating masturbation on stage so, more than the greatest classical dancer, it would be fairer to remember Nijinsky as one of the fathers of modern dance. His vision of The Rite of Spring was “forgotten” until the 1980s when it was revived by the Joffrey Ballet. His choreography was documented only by witness accounts, photographs, and detailed notes preserved by the Royal Ballet’s director, Marie Rambert.

Named the “night the 20th century began”, May 29, 1913, is still a legend to be studied. After marrying Romola during the tour of South America, Nijinsky, and Diaghilev never spoke again. The dancer’s mental health, which was something hereditary, deteriorated and the period of the world war only made everything worse.

Settled with his wife and daughters in neutral Switzerland, Nijinksy wrote his diary which records his process of increasing psychosis until his hospitalization in 1919, when he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. For thirty years, until his death on April 8, 1950, he alternated between hospital stays and moments at home, but he never created or danced again. Till Eulenspiegel was his last complete work before he was committed. But it is the innovation of The Rite of Spring that divides critics and historians to this day. The only key that is unanimous is that the work is one of the most original pieces made in Art and that it further fuels Vaslav Nijisnky‘s immortality in Western culture as the symbol of the creative and misunderstood rebel, far ahead of his time.


Deixe um comentário

Preencha os seus dados abaixo ou clique em um ícone para log in:

Logo do

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Facebook

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Facebook. Sair /  Alterar )

Conectando a %s