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Rite of Spring Redux: 100 Years of a Stravinsky Masterpiece

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One hundred years ago on May 29, 1913, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring exploded onto the European scene in a celebrated, riotous premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. Ever since, dance companies have taken up the challenge to stage a work that captures the power and the sweep of Stravinsky’s revolutionary masterpiece. 

On the day of the centennial anniversary, May 29, 2013, the Richmond Ballet, as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, presents the Rite, in Salvatore Aiello’s sensual staging. While in Paris, the Mariinsky Ballet returns to the scene of the crime, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, with a reconstruction of the imagined, original production, choreography and décor newly realized by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer.

Stravinsky's powerful music score for the ballet, subtitled “Pictures of Pagan Russia,” with revels and ritual sacrifice—a young maiden dances herself to death—to appease the god of Spring, was originally commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes troupe. Today, Stravinsky’s music is considered a seminal work of the modern age.  Diaghilev’s production, and particularly the choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, offended contemporary Parisian sensibilities and provoked the ballet’s failure as well as the riot. 

To get a sense of the singular vision and influence of Serge Diaghilev, don't miss the exhibition “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which includes the dazzling costumes and striking set designs of artists, including Léon Bakst, Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso.

And the music? To celebrate the centenary, Sony is releasing a treasure trove of recordings of the Rite of Spring, both new (conductor Daniele Gatti leading the Orchestra National de France) and remastered historic recordings, including Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Sarah Ferguson

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