Firstworks is bringing Chicago's renowned Joffrey Ballet to Providence on March 19 for a centennial production of one of the iconic events of 1913: the Paris premiere of the controversial ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring).
At a recent Salon at the Providence Athenaeum entitled “Cultural Convulsion,” speakers placed The Rite of Spring alongside two other 1913 events in the world of art and literature, the Armory Show in New York City which introduced American audiences to avant-garde European artists like Picasso, and publication of the first volume of Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, sometimes translated as Remembrance of Things Past). The year was also notable for a massive women's suffrage march in Washington the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson; the opening of the Woolworth Building and Grand Central Terminal in New York; numerous labor strikes; and war in the Balkans and Turkey that threatened to expand.
The ballet (which Proust attended) was one of a series brought to Paris from Russia by impressario Sergei Diaghilev, with choreographer and lead dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It featured highly rhythmic and discordant music by Igor Stravinsky, a stark contrast to the fluid melodies of classical ballets such as Swan Lake or Giselle that Paris audiences were used to. The story line, taken (in theory) from primitive Russian pagan rites, included the sacrifice of a young woman. The premier performance was so controversial that the audience began fighting and throwing things at the orchestra. Critics panned both the music and the dancing.
Over time, however, the work gained respect both as a concert piece and as a ballet. At the Athenaeum program, firstworks Managing Director Peter Bramante noted that The Rite of Spring "changed the face of contemporary dance and music."
The Joffrey Ballet has carefully reconstructed both the choreography and the costuming of the 1913 performance. Consistent with its mission to connect art with a variety of audiences, firstworks has surrounded the performance with a week of master classes and public forums, supported by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. More information is available from firstworks and the Providence Performing Arts Center.