This is the year to celebrate the centennial anniversary of “The Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du Printemps”). Carolina Ballet joined in the celebration by performing Christopher Stowell’s, former director of Oregon Ballet Theater, version this March. In addition, Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall has been bringing numerous productions of “Rite” to Carolinians; I have been able to see two versions (Joffrey Ballet and Basil Twist). When the famous production was first premiered with the Ballet Russe in Paris in 1913, audiences were in hysteria. Sergei Diaghilev (director), Vaslav Nijinsky (dance choreographer), and Igor Stravinsky (music composer) were seen as mad. Now, one hundred years later, there are over 200 different dance interpretations to the striking score.
I was able to attend a masterclass seminar in Chapel Hill led by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer; they are internationally-known for their reconstructions of lost ballet masterpieces from the early 20th century. They took it upon themselves to bring Nijinsky’s historic “Rite” piece back to the stage with the Joffrey Ballet in 1980s. Hodson and Archer discussed how he broke every rule of ballet, in turn presenting the foundation for modern dance. The team-of-two worked seven years on retracing the choreography, sets and costumes to present the closest possible version of Nijinsky’s original work. In this workshop, we were able to learn some of the choreography. To be honest, when I first saw clips of Joffery performing “Rite” I thought it was a lot of stomping around with odd arm movements. But after the class, I developed a whole new appreciation for the mathematical genius of the work. Your arms go on certain counts, while your arms do something different. Hodson said, Nijinsky wanted the dancers to enter a unique state of mind where your counting and body movements would put you in a trance.
In contrast, Stowell’s interpretation is more Neo-Classical movement in pointe shoes. He uses angular shapes and simplistic scenery to demonstrate his view of “Rite of Spring’s” two-piano version. He wanted it to pay homage to Nijinsky’s original work, which centered around a virgin sacrifice in the 1913 performance. His type of choreography was different than what I was used to dancing with the Carolina Ballet, but the challenge was enthralling. My body was soar in places it usually wasn’t.
I will not try to give a book report on the ballet’s structure, but as you can tell my the photographs below (by the one-and-only Tim Lytvinenko), the costumes and sets are completely different to Nijinsky’s tribal robes. At the bottom, I have added a photo from Joffrey’s and Twist’s version.
More information on the original production: http://joffrey.org/news/joffrey-ballet-brings-rite-spring-back-music-center