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Blog 5 Roopnarine

1. Read “100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater”; in your own words, summarize what the author believes happened during the ballet’s premiere.

The author of this article believes…

Shortly after the ballet’s opening notes, a meandering and unsettlingly high-pitched bassoon solo that many in the crowd found amusing and mocking, started the commotion. The orchestra’s hammering percussion and jarring rhythms intensified in tandem with the mounting tensions within the freshly opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and the jeers grew louder as the music moved into a more cacophonous territory.

By the time the dancers, directed by renowned Ballets Russes director Vaslav Nijinsky, ascended the stage, the atmosphere had almost reached a boiling point. The dancers, who were decked up in absurd costumes, made monstrous and violent movements instead of graceful ones, that echoed the weird story that was being told throughout the ballet. The audience’s boos got so loud that the dancers couldn’t hear the music, requiring Nijinsky to yell instructions from backstage.

The orchestra quickly found itself under attack as irate Parisians threw vegetables and other objects toward the stage as a fight broke out between two sections of the audience. Although 40 individuals were reportedly expelled from the theater, it’s unclear whether the police were actually called to the scene. Amazingly, the show went on till the end, even though the consequences were severe and quick.

2. Read “Did Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring incite a riot at its premiere?”; in your own words, summarize what the author argues actually happened at the premiere and describe at least two pieces of evidence (like historical material) the author uses to support their argument.

The author of this article believes…

A riot never occurred on the night that “The Rite of Spring” premiered. He believes that the term “riot” was used for promotional business, especially in the United States, where the thrill of violence was exciting to Americans. After entering the States, The term “riot” and “The Rite of Spring” went hand and hand. 

Levitz points out that the balcony is where the majority of the first-person recollections of the premiere were recorded. Due to certain architectural features, the balcony of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was highly resonant; sounds from the orchestra, which was unusually strong, bounced off concrete walls. The setting of the balcony probably amplified the effect and made the sound overwhelming. We don’t know whether other groups in the audience felt the same confusion because this is the only audience perspective that has been recorded in history. Only a one-group perspective, that to far from where the incident occurred can not be the sole proof that a riot occurred. 

The author also pointed out that the choreography that the dancers were doing, was seen as humorous at the time, justifying the reason why the aristocrats were viewing the performance as hilarious. The music lovers, musicians, and critics were horrified by the aristocrats’ rude actions, so they reacted by complaining and abusing them. History lists a number of specific insults, but Levitz hypothesizes that only those seated near to the people who yelled them were likely to have heard them at all, contrary to how most representations of the clash portray them.

Early stories of that evening do not record any actual physical altercations, much less a riot. Levitz cites a number of sources that described the mood in the immediate wake of the premiere as hostile and fervent but not physically violent—similar to that of a contentious parliamentary discussion or a criminal court trial.


“Furthermore, the myth conveniently neglects to mention that, at the end of The Rite, the dancers took five curtain calls, and the evening’s entertainment continued with another ballet, Carl Maria von Weber’s Le Spectre de la rose, also choreographed by Nijinsky. That wouldn’t seem possible if the altercation was as destructive as it’s been construed”, (Gleason / What (actually) happened at the premiere of The Rite?). 

“Levitz points out that the audience had a limited frame of reference for such displays; they most often saw them in demonstrations at colonial expositions that presented the “exotic” traditions of exploited people for the amusement of their European colonizers. Some dance moves had found their way into the cabaret and music hall, where they were intended as humor—as the title of Levitz’s essay indicates, these practices were very racist. Thus some in the audience—notably the aristocrats—responded in the way they thought they were supposed to: by laughing”, (Gleason / What (actually) happened at the premiere of The Rite?). 

Conclusion: Everything was a big misunderstanding!

3. How did you respond to this ballet the first time you watched/listened to it? If you were in the audience in 1913, how do you think you would have reacted to the music and dance?

Watching this performance, I found it very unusual. My first initial thought was that this was distributing. I did not know what was going on in this ballet or what story was being told. If I was in the audience in 1913, based on my first initial thoughts of seeing this ballet, I would have reacted with an expression of disturbance, and I would have probably left the theatre hall. I found it very hard to watch as I was confused the whole time and the music and visuals were not that pleasing.

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June 2024

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