The Rite of Spring (Sacre du Printemps)
which debuted in Paris in 1913, was the third major Stravinsky
ballet to be commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev
for the Ballets Russes (following The Firebird, 1910,
(1911). Its "barbarous" music and the unconventional choreography
that Nijinsky designed to accompany it caused one of the most
famous theatrical scandals in history. While the ballet's music
and choreography sometimes seemed to strive for heavy and primitive
effects, the sets of Nikolai Roerich seem positively ethereal.
Roerich (1874-1947) was trained as an ethnographer and visual
artist. In a long letter to Diaghilev, Roerich had this to say
about his vision of the ballet:
"I have been studying Russian (and Slavic)
antiquity for twenty years now, and I find beautiful traits
in it, wonderful scenes which the pubic must be reminded of.
In the whirlwind of contemporary life the public often forgets
about about the distant life when people know hot to rejoice,
when they understood the beautiful cosmogony of Earth and Sky.
In the ballet Sacre du Printemps, conceived by Stravinsky and
myself, I wanted to present scenes of the joy of Earth and the
exultation of Sky in a Slavic context. I won't list the program
of dances the program is not important to the scenes.
I will on point out that the first scene "A Kiss to the Earth"
transports us to the foot of a sacred hill, to green glades
where Slavic clans are gathering for spring games. Here is an
old sorceress who tells the future, here are the games "the
abduction of the women," city against city," and "the circle
dances." Finally the most important moment comes: they bring
the oldest and wisest one from the village so he can give the
sacred kiss to the budding earth. After the bright earthly joy,
in the second scene we are brought to the heavenly mystery.
Among enchanted stones on the sacred hill, girls conduct mysterious
games and select the chosen victim whom they exult with songs.
Now she will dance the final dance and the witnesses to that
dance will be the elders who have donned bear skins as a sing
that the bear is considered the forefather of humans. The elders
hand over the sacrifice to the sun god Yarilo."