The Rite of Spring

Music: Igor Stravinsky (1912–1913)
Choreography: Glen Tetley
Staging: Bronwen Curry
Scenic and Costume Design: Nadine Baylis
Original Lighting Design: John B. Read
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli
Duration: 38 minutes
Original Production Premiere: May 29, 1913: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Paris), choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky
Tetley Production Premiere: April 17, 1974; Bavarian State Opera Ballet (Munich)
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: February 3, 2005

PNB Company dancers in The Rite of Spring.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Arguably the greatest and most significant work of orchestral music of the twentieth century, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps has been an inspiration for choreographers all over the world. The original ballet by Vaslav Nijinsky had its scandalous debut by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on May 29, 1913, at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The score, considered the prime landmark in the development of modern music, baffled and vexed audiences for its unorthodox composition and orchestration. The choreography, depicting the rituals of a pre-Christian Russian community celebrating the arrival of Spring, eschews all the elements of traditional ballet classicism and makes use of crude movements—jumping in place, shuffling, stomping, forming hobbled groupings with feet turned in and arms in angular positions. Subtitled Pictures of Ancient Russia, the ballet dealt with a tribal community which each year requires the sacrifice of a virgin for the renewal of Spring.

Nijinsky’s Sacre had only seven performances in Paris and later in London. In 1920 Diaghilev commissioned a new version by Leonide Massine, who later took his production to the United States where Martha Graham portrayed the Chosen Virgin. Since then the score has been a magnet to dozens of ballet and modern dance choreographers on three continents. While some have made drastic departures from the intentions of the original, most treat the music as an accompaniment to a primitive ritual—though not necessarily a Russian one.

In 1974, Glen Tetley devised his version for the Bavarian State Opera Ballet. His choreography, a masterful combination of classical ballet movement and modern dance technique, reflects his training and performance experience in both schools. For the Munich dancers, he created a challenging ensemble work and a tour de force role for a male dancer, who portrays a youth chosen for the Spring sacrifice. In this stark ballet, the primal society depicted has no ethnic characteristics; perhaps they are merely the inhabitants of human consciousness. A full ensemble and a chorus of 12 male dancers convey the driving force of Stravinsky’s raw rhythms, and a couple representing parent figures connect and couple to affect his rebirth.

The ballet was remounted for American Ballet Theatre in 1976, providing a striking vehicle for the young Mikhail Baryshnikov, with Martine van Hamel and Clark Tippet as the parent figures. In recent years, Tetley’s Le Sacre has been successfully restored by Houston Ballet and Ballet West in Salt Lake City.

Notes by Leland Windreich.

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