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The Rite of Spring's percussive rhythms and violent score enraged its first listeners in 1913. Listen to an excerpt?

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

On May 29, 1913, in Paris, Les Ballets Russes stages the first ballet performance of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacré du Printemps,) with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario -- a setting of scenes from pagan Russia -- shock audiences more accustomed to the demure conventions of classical ballet. The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first draw catcalls and whistles from the crowd, and are soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience escalates into a riot.

The Paris police arrive by intermission, but they restore only limited order. Chaos reigns for the remainder of the performance. Nijinsky and Stravinsky are despondent. However, Sergei Diaghilev, the director of Les Ballets Russes, comments that the scandal was "just what I wanted."

The ballet completes its run of six performances amid controversy, but no further disruption. Both Stravinsky and Nijinsky continue to work, but neither creates pieces in this percussive and intense style again. In later years, The Rite of Spring is regarded as a path-breaking 20th century masterpiece. The work is often heard in concert and the ballet is set by many prominent choreographers. After extensive research, Nijinsky's original setting is reconstructed and presented by the Joffrey Ballet in 1988. This performance, 75 years after the premiere, causes no riots. In fact, it is televised nationally on PBS.


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