It is impossible to assess Igor Stravinsky’s composition The Rite of Spring without touching on the history of the piece, notably the initial reaction upon its opening night performance. By the accounts of the DVD and Wikipedia page the premiere essentially erupted into a riot. And if The Joffery Ballet’s interpretation is in fact the closest thing to a reconstruction of the original performance, it is not difficult to see why the audience would react in such a manner.
While traditional ballet is typically rooted in flourishes of gracefulness, The Rite of Spring is truly anything but. Not only is the pagan theme of a girl who dances herself to death rather gruesome, but the actual music and accompanying dance is also quite jarring. Picture the audience sitting and awaiting the rise of the curtain. Instead of plucking strings and swirling violins, they are greeted by a purported “misuse” of the bassoon and off kilter drums. And the dancing is equally offsetting, as the long, flowing motion typically associated with ballet is replaced by jittery, up-and-down movements – quick and choppy. Jaws must’ve been hitting the floor throughout the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
If not for the thunderously omniscient score, interpreted to varying degrees of success since its inception, the performance would still remain revolutionary in its motion to completely break down the confines that defined ballet and interpretive art in general during that time.
No post on The Rite of Spring would truly be complete without mentioning Fantasia. Although there are claims that Stravinsky was not happy with the outcome of the segment tied to his piece, the sheer wonderment of the animation tied to the depiction of evolution from single-celled organisms to the eventual demise of the dinosaurs still stands as one of the greatest achievements of Disney to this date. If it took a misrepresentation of Stravinsky’s work to come up with such a moving portion to such a monumental film, then I say, so be it. Like The Rite of Spring in ballet, Fantasia is a groundbreaking work that will be carried on throughout the annals of film history.