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 “100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater”

The premiere of The Rite of Spring by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky is considered one of the most important and violent performances in modern history, as well as one of the most notorious. In this article, the author gives a general account of what happened on the night of May 29, 1913. At the beginning of the ballet, the orchestra plays. But soon after the orchestra began playing, many in the audience laughed at a high-pitched bassoon solo because they thought that was harsh and creepy. The orchestra continued to play, but the jeers became louder and louder, and the audience thought the orchestra’s performance was noisy. Then the dancers came on stage and the noise was at its highest. Because the dancers wear bizarre costumes, the dancers eschewed elegance and fluid movements and dance weird and violent movements. The audience had never seen such a bizarre ballet performance, and the noise of their discontent gradually drowned out the orchestra, so much so that even Igor Stravinsky was forced to stop Shouting backstage. But this has had little effect. The audience was divided into two groups. On one side were those who thought the performance was not art at all, and they mocked and cursed it. On one side, the audience is curious about the avant-garde performance. They were unhappy with the invective, and scuffles broke out between the two factions. The orchestra found themselves drawn into the melee too, everything available thrown at them. 40 people seriously interfered with the performance and were ejected, probably by the police but there was no physical evidence. Despite the chaos, the orchestra continued to play until the end of the performance.

 “Did Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring incite a riot at its premiere?”

In this blog post, the author argues that the riot never happened. There was some audience dissatisfaction but only verbal aggression and no physical altercations as reported. The author believes that the audience’s dissatisfaction comes from two reasons, one is the seat of the audience and the other is because of racism. The author was greatly helped by Dr. Levitz’s article, in which Levitz pointed out that due to the peculiarities of the theater architecture, the sound of the orchestra would reflect off the concrete, and the sound that would bounce back would amplify the music of the band. The sound of the orchestra, which is already harsh, is made even harsher by environmental reflection. Levitz argues that the effect of the theater and the theme of “Rite of Spring” set off a disturbing chain reaction. The second reason was that the actors in The Rite of Spring were dressed in costumes similar to those they had seen exploited people wearing at colonial expositions. Some aristocrats thought this was pleasing to them, so they laughed at the performance onstage. Some people were shocked by the unreasonable behavior of the nobles, so they responded by complaining and insulting the nobles. And so the conflict began.

In today’s world, various types of ballets/performances are very common. So when I first listened to this ballet, I didn’t think it was noisy, I didn’t think like people in the last century. On the contrary, I would be curious to see what kind of story the ballet would tell and look forward to its development. If I were in the audience in 1913, and I had not heard anything like The Rite of Spring, I would have been shocked, shocked that there was such a unique way of performing it, and would not have laughed at it as much as the audience did.

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This course includes Open Educational Resources (OER), which are entirely cost-free and accessible online. Developed in the Open Knowledge Fellowship at The Graduate Center's Mina Rees Library, this work is made possible by state grant funding through the Office of Library Services.



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