Rite of Spring 1/2

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Rite of Spring 1 2

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, and Petrushka (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."

RIGHT: Roerich's initial sketch for the first act of the ballet (click on the image for a larger version).


LEFT: Roerich's third and final design for the first act set for The Rite of Spring. (Click on image for a larger version)