The Ballet Time
The Ballet Time column presents an Elena Solominskaya's article dedicated to different versions of the Igor Stravinsky ballet The Rite of Spring. She considers its history as a mythological phenomenon. Its destiny caused its creators' anxiety even before it had been completed: the musicians refused to play the score, Stravinsky himself couldn't understand Nijinsky's choreography, whereas Nijinsky in turn caused an outcry on the part of the dancers. Having gone through as many as 120 rehearsals, The Rite of Spring was then only performed six times. But under the influence of its sacred magic, representatives of various schools and currents have been turning to it time and again. A foundation for their fantasies the artists find not so much in the plot as in the form, power and diversity of the Stravinsky's score. The Rite of Spring is a demolition, transformation and dynamic shaping of styles and forms, interpretations and compositions.
Another version of The Rite belonged to Leonid Massine (1920). As opposed to the Nijinsky's version, whose choreography had allowed the dancer's body to reveal its own abilities in new motions, the Massine's widely open compositions were oriented at spatial concepts of the dance. Stravinsky himself compared the ordonnance of Massine's ballet to his own musical concept. Massine felt free to change the plot according to the music, having made a first step towards development of a ballet of the new era – the symphonic one.
The Roman version by the choreographer Aurel Milloss (1941) hadn't been much of a success. The next staging belongs to Mary Wigman (Germany, 1957). She had raised the plane of the stage, having created a kind of podium on which girls in long black frocks danced around in ranks, forming various geometrical figures. Their postures of “worshiping the Earth” were to gain a second wind in 1959 in the famous Rite by Maurice Bejart. The difference would be that the latter was to represent a masculine prayer of savage men living in the woods, who know neither remorse nor mercy… Bejart would also avoid focusing on the plot, as if foreseeing, by his choreography, contemporary, as opposed to archaic, motives of the presented events.
Yet another choreographer who ventured into The Rite of Spring was the 90-year-old Martha Graham, one of the former performers (1930) of The Chosen One in the Massine's version. For her it was important to realize the power of rite, so she didn't follow any particular scenario.
In 1970's two Rite's lighted upon Europe: the Hamburg one, by John Neumeier (Le Sacre), and the Wuppertahl one, by Pina Bausch. And if the music of Stravinsky was referred to as “signals in the dark”, then perhaps no one has ever expressed the finitude of those signals more clearly than Bausch had. The naked form of the motions bore characteristics of some deadly rapture in the human essence.
In the 1980's, a Swedesh choreographer Mats Ek, who had seen the flourishing Rite of Bejart's and appreciated its femininity in Graham's one, once again turned to the sacral music of Stravinsky. Working with the Kullberg Ballet troupe, he aspired to combine the idea of a radically new music (of the beginning of the century) with that of a radically new cinema (of the 60's). Stravinsky's music and Kurosawa's films, a synthesis of Western choreography and Oriental dance have become a benchmark of Ek's philosophy of ballet.
The version by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer with the Joffrey-Ballet troupe (1987), in whose making eyewitness accounts and memoirs, as well as archival materials, had been used, is considered the closest one to the original choreography by Wazlaw Nijinsky and the scenography by Nicholas Roerich.
On the Russian stage, The Rite of Spring first saw the spotlight in 1965 at the Bolshoy, choreographed by Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilev. In 1969, it reached the banks of the Neva and was staged again by the same choreographers at the Malyi Opera and Ballet Theater of Leningrad. Later yet, they again staged The Rite of Spring at their own Classical Ballet Theater in Moscow.
The Russians “on the other side” haven't abstained from The Rite of Spring either. Baryshnikov has performed the part of the Youth in a Glenn Tetley production at the American Ballet Theater, while Valeri Panov had done the same at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and later again in Antwerp with the troupe of The Royal Ballet of Flanders.
The contemporary European versions of The Rite of Spring have little to do with the pagan ritual of the ancient Rus'. They are almost completely devoid of any Russian motifs. The text of the dance becomes capacious and multicultural, more and more intensive and polyphonic. In the latest versions that I have seen in Germany and Switzerland – one by Richard Verlock in Basel, one by Antonio Gomez at the Mannheim Theater, and one by Ouri Vamos precedence over the contents and meaning of the action.
Whether in The Rite of Spring of the 21st century the toughness and aggression will prevail, such as have been so fashionable in the ballet constructions of the second half of the 20th century, time alone can prove. One might only suggest that the sacredness in that ritual sense which was originally assumed in the Stravinsky-Roerich libretto, given all tragic realities of the passed century, will assume more and more abstract and philosophical character, drifting away from the specific historical form of human sacrifice per se.