Dance Critique: The Rite of Spring The Rite of Spring was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, a Russian dancer and choreographer. He joined The Imperial School of Ballet in 1900 and was later the lead dancer of the Ballet Russes. He eventually choreographed many works, one of them being Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in 1913. He “exceeded the limits of traditional ballet” and the Rite was an example of this. In 1919 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in and out of hospitals until he died in London on April 8, 1950.
The Rite of Spring was performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes on May 29th, 1913 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris. It was later remade by the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles on September 30, 1987. Igor Stravinsky was the composer for The Rite of Spring. In his works for the Rite there was a significant basis of Russian and Lithuanian folk music. His music has influenced many of the 20th century composers and the idea that the Rite portrayed was inspired by Pagan Russia. The Rite of Spring became one of the first pieces of work that led to modern dance.
The Rite of Spring had two acts, the first was called The Adoration of the Earth and the second was The Sacrifice. In act one, a group of men and women danced in circles in order to welcome the new season of spring. The mood during this act was very happy and bright. I think this performance showed the ritualistic actions of pre-civilized natives who welcomed spring and worshipped mother nature, and possibly dancing in hopes of good crops. There is a moment in this act where it seems as though the men and women are fighting but peace is then restored when an old man comes out and calms everyone.
The mood drastically shifts to depressing, dark, sorrowful, and violent in the second act when a young woman is picked to be a sacrifice. The woman starts off scared and stays still in the circle of people that surrounds her but then starts to frantically move and try to break away until she dances herself to death and is carried off the stage. The Rite of Spring is very different from the traditions of classical ballet. In classical ballet, the dancers are very prim, proper and elegant. They stand perfectly straight and as tall as they can be.
They look very tight and rigid but graceful at the same time. They also wore very elegant costumes. The original ballerina was thought of as a graceful, supernatural being that should be as close to the sky as possible and as far from the ground as possible, hence the reason for their leaps, standing straight and for being on their toes. However, the dancers in The Rite of Spring were barely on their toes and had their feet pointed inward, which was unusual for a dancer. They mostly hunched over while their arms dangled as if they had weights on their backs.
They were not graceful, they walked heavily, dragging their feet and stomping, sometimes they would run chaotically. The dancers looked like barbarians, they would stomp and shake their bodies aggressively. The woman that was being sacrificed started off with a simple shoulder shrug but eventually dancing violently representing her desire to not be a human sacrifice. This performance evoked to me a feeling of joy, happiness, sorrow, distress, violence, excitement and aggressiveness. Najinsky had the dancers form circles or groups and he separated the men and women most of the time.
They came together when they fought in the first act. The separation of the men and women encouraged the dancers to utilize the whole stage. The men and women went back and forth forming circles around the sacrifice until there was one big circle of men and women together around the woman in the center being sacrificed. I think Nijinsky decided to use the circle dancing as his spatial configuration because the circles allowed for more use of the stage and it symbolizes the rituals of natives are all connected during their celebrations and sacrifices.
By having the males and females separated Nijinsky made a strong statement that I believe is that the only thing that brings the sexes together is their important ritual of sacrifice. For most of the performance, the dancers were in unison. This helps the audience capture everything that is occurring. It allows the crowd to focus their attention on the important aspect of the performance instead of trying to go back and forth from one side of the stage to another. The spectators can also appreciate the movement of the dancers more if they are in unison.
It also helped Nijinsky show what he felt was important in the performance if everyone was doing the same thing. There were some instances that the dancers were so n’sync that they looked like robots. The moves that they made seemed simples, for example, their stomping didn’t seem complicated but to do it at the same time looked very complex and harder. Najinsky showed in The Rite of Spring that these performances could be about normal people and their traditions instead of fantasy.
The dancers were hunched over and close to the ground and loose with their bodies which is more like a normal person than standing perfectly straight with restricted movements. I believe that an audience is more likely to connect with a story that shows the regularity of the human body rather than that shown by classical ballet. The dancers in the Rite would run, hop and stomp for most of the performance and much of these movements were repetitive, possibly because Nijinsky wanted to show the ritualistic aspect of what was happening.
In some parts of the dance one group may be stomping and running while another is sitting and another is just standing still. Other times they may all be running around to what looked like no desired destination. It looks like organized chaos because of all the different movements and positions, they would be dancing all over the place at some points. The choreographed elements and sequences I found most important were the use of circles on the stage, the relationship between the men and women, the dancing itself (hopping, jumping and stomping) and also how well the music went with the movements.
I thought it was really awesome how the stomping of the dancers looked as though they were making the music. Every step was on cue with each drum beat. Because of all these aspects of the performance, I was able to understand the storyline better. The ritualistic circles exemplified what i had learned about the rituals of natives and such as sacrifice and the worship of their gods. The music played a major role in the performance because the choreography went with the music with every step. They moved every part of their body with the beat of the music. If the music became faster, slower or more intense then so would their dancing.
Because of this it seemed like the dancers were actually making the music. The music and the choreography complimented each other. The tempo of the dancing would vary just as the tempo for the music. The music also helped set the mood for the performance, in act one the beat was high and fast but in act two it became gloomy, slow and low keyed. This is the same as in movies, when something bad is about to happen dreary music comes on for dramatic effect and the same for a happy event. The decorations, props and costumes helped portray the events in the performance.
The decor and props for act one were colorful and bright, the scenery was a nice spring day with a beautiful blue sky and this helped bring out the intended happy mood. On the other hand, the second act was very dark which represented the night and the tragedy of sacrfice that was occurring. The costumes also played a role, the dancers were covered head to toe in clothing with no skin exposed. They had long hair in their face, heavy makeup, long loose clothing and their legs and feet were covered. I thought it was pretty cool how the clothing looked when the dancers would jump in the air.
Along with all of this, lighting also had a big effect on the dance. Because the point of the first act was happiness, the lighting was bright to match the scenery, which helped the beautiful spring day become more realistic. Likewise, to match the second act, the lighting was dark and gloomy to show the pain of the sacrifice. I feel that the The Rite of Spring is attention grabbing and enjoyable. Many people do not like this work the first time they see it, and i can understand why. The first time i watched it i thought it was depressing, violent and I also thought the music was a little irritating.
After the second and third time of watching it, I now see both the joyfulness as well as the sadness aspects of it. I appreciated how the stomps of the dancers were n’sync with the music. I also like that I can connect with the dancing because it is not prim and proper rather it is more humanistic and is about an actual culture’s events and rituals. Also, the performance was easy to understand and interesting to watch. This work is very important because it breaks away from the traditions of classical ballet and has a big influence in modern dance