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The Rite of Spring Returns a Century Later
 May 13, 2013

The first premiere at the new stage of the Mariinsky Theatre (Mariinsky-II) – the ballet Le Sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring) to music by Igor Stravinsky in a production by cult contemporary choreographer Sasha Waltz on 13, 14 and 15 May, the theatre’s press service reports.

To date there have been more than two hundred stage versions of Le Sacre du printemps. Stravinsky’s magnificent score has proved ideal for ballet, providing an inexhaustible source for choreographic endeavours. The composer himself considered Vaslav Nijinsky’s production the best and was skeptical about any new production. Moreover, Nijinsky’s premiere production at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées on 29 May 1913 created a furore and shock among the audience.

The public was not ready for the cultural revolution that this ballet was, its avant-garde primitivism throwing down the gauntlet to the established refined beauty of Diaghilev’s ballets: bearded men in long shirts and bast shoes, deliberately awkward movements, heavy leaps landing on flat, “club-footed” arches and the hitherto unseen wild dance. The plot was organised by the rhythm alone, fundamental in this ballet as it dictates everything.

The public only came to accept Stravinsky’s ballet in 1929. It was not without sarcasm that Diaghilev wrote that “Le Sacre du printemps was a veritable triumph. The fools have come to understand it. The Times says that Sacre is for the 20th century what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was for the 19th! At last!”

Nijinsky’s ballet was remembered and judged for many years to come. Millicent Hodson, an American choreographer and specialist in ballet revivals, together with Kenneth Archer revived the ballet in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet. It has been performed ever since in many countries. This reconstruction was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in 2003 and revived in 2012.

There are festivals all over the world in connection with the centenary of Le Sacre du printemps. Choreographers, as Maurice Béjart once said, “are besotted with Stravinsky’s music,” and as before seek out varied and different ways to embody it in dance.

With her Sacre, Sasha Waltz returns to ritual, ancient rites and the idea of sacrifice. The choreographer is convinced that the music “conceals some ancient force, it’s as if it’s filled with the power of the Earth. On the one hand, I wanted to emphasise the music but, on the other, I didn’t want to be its victim. The music is so powerful within itself that I had to retain my ‘independence’ and the autonomy of my own world.”

Sasha Waltz is a cult contemporary choreographer. Since 1993 she has directed the company Sasha Waltz & Guests, which was founded with the aim of integrating contemporary dance with every conceivable form of theatre art. In addition to working on music and dance projects, Sasha Waltz has also created major cultural centres: in 1996 she established the Sophiensaele theatre, an avant-garde cultural centre, while in 2006 on the banks of the River Spree she formed Radialsystem in an abandoned pump station as a concert and theatre venue for four ensembles – Sasha Waltz & Guests, Berlin’s Academy for Early Music, the Kaleidoskop soloists’ ensemble and Vocalconsort Berlin – as well as serving as a venue for several music festivals.

From 2000 – 2005 Sasha Waltz was a director of Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre. Sacre at the Mariinsky Theatre is not Sasha Waltz’ first work in Russia. In 1998 there was a production of Das Land, which Sasha Waltz & Guests staged together with six actors from Gennady Abramov’s Class of Expressive Plastique.

The premiere of Sacre at the Mariinsky Theatre marks one century of Igor Stravinsky’s legendary ballet with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. Celebrating one hundred years since the premiere of Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s ballet, on 29 May 2013 at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées, the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra will be presenting Le Sacre du printemps with choreography by both Nijinsky and Sasha Waltz under the baton of Valery Gergiev.

The evening programme of the premiere performances on 13, 14 and 15 May will also feature George Balanchine’s ballet Prodigal Son to music by Sergei Prokofiev.

The production is being prepared by Sasha Waltz (Choreographer), Bernd Skodzig (Costume Designer), Pia Maier Schriever and Sasha Waltz (Production Designers), Thilo Reuther (Lighting Designer) and Juan Kruz Díaz de Garaio, Luke Danbury, Antonio Ruz and Yael Schnell (Assistant Choreographers). Valery Gergiev is Musical Director and Conductor of the production.

Russkiy Mir Foundation Information Service


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