Nearly 100 years ago, a groundbreaking ballet premiered in Paris, causing quite a stir with its bold choreography, jarring music, scandalous costumes and outrageous depictions of pagan sacrifice.
"The Rite of Spring," a ballet and orchestral concert by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, nearly sparked a riot when it was revealed to the world on May 29, 1913, with daring challenges to the conventions of the time, said Jon Stone, an assistant professor of Russian and Russian Studies at Franklin & Marshall College.
"It was a work that both at its time, but also retrospectively, really signaled the inception of a cultural movement and a break with tradition," said Stone, whose research expertise is in late 19th- and 20th-century Russian poetry and cultural aesthetics. "Now, these things have been normalized over a century, and they cease to be different, innovative and strange, but the perception that this is shocking has survived."
Franklin & Marshall will launch a centennial celebration of the ballet with a series of free public events, starting Wednesday, Feb. 27, through Thursday, March 7. "The Rite of Spring: A Centennial Celebration at F&M" coincides with the College's yearlong anniversary, "Beyond 225: Inspired for Life", which celebrates F&M's tradition of academic excellence, scholarship and service. See Full Listing of Events.
"It's exemplary of our liberal arts mission not only to recognize this landmark interdisciplinary work but also bring it to life for our students and the community," said Lynn Brooks, director of dance at F&M and one of organizers for the event series inspired by the ballet. "It's an extraordinary lineup of high quality. We are not just talking about the work, but presenting it in all its dimensions."
Originally performed by the Ballets Russes, a company of Russian dancers, choreographers and composers, "The Rite of Spring" is set in Russia and comprises various scenes of primitive pagan rituals, including a sacrificial event. Dissonant, atonal movements explore themes such as the "Ritual of Abduction," "Dance of the Earth," "Evocation of the Ancestors," "Glorification of the Chosen One," and "Sacrificial Dance."
"The Stravinsky score is considered in some senses a landmark in modern music," Brooks said. "The choreography also was very radical for its time. Put that together with the rich collaboration of Stravinsky with Nicholas Roerich, a specialist in Russian folklore, anthropologist and painter who did the costumes and set design, and with Vaslav Nijinsky, the choreographer, and it is an exceptional work in every direction."
"The Rite of Spring" challenged audiences, Stone said, because the music was less harmonious and refined than traditional pieces. It was meant to be "difficult and jarring," and the work is significant because Stravinsky purposely set out to uproot the conventional.
Bridging music, dance and film
The F&M celebration will kick off with a film and live dance performance featuring various choreographic styles, followed by a discussion led by Brooks on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Other events include musical performances, an exhibit at the Phillips Museum of Art titled "The Rite of Spring and Trans-Atlantic Modernism," and talks by leading experts on the ballet, its costumes and music.
The F&M Philharmonia and Community Musicians, under the direction of Conductor Brian Norcross, will perform the musical score on March 2. On March 4, Eugene Gaddis, an archivist at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., will give a talk titled "How Diaghilev's legacy first came to America: the Lifar collection, Balanchine and Chick Austin." The closing event will feature a lecture, "The Rite of Spring at 100 -- Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes," by Lynn Garafola, a historian of dance at Barnard College.
"Lynn Garafola is a major scholar of dance history, and Gene Gaddis is an expert on the history of the ballet company," Stone said. "They both will help to provide a first-hand encounter with 'The Rite of Spring.' "
A cross-disciplinary collaboration, "The Rite of Spring: A Centennial Celebration," is sponsored by the departments of German & Russian; theater, dance & film; and music; as well as the Phillips Museum of Art; F&M Philharmonia; Office of the Provost; and Ware Center at Millersville University. Students will attend the various events and performances and discuss the "Rite of Spring" in their classes.