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The Rite of Spring: Story, Analysis, Composer & Music

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  • 0:04 Story of the Rite of Spring
  • 1:15 Analysis
  • 2:16 Music
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Almost as famous for the rowdy reception its first performance in Paris caused, The Rite of Spring shook the artistic world with the one-two punch of provocative dance and unsettling music. Additionally, it propelled its composer, Igor Stravinsky, to considerable fame.

Story of The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring is among the most controversial ballets ever written, causing spectators to call out during its first showing in Paris. Today, the ballet still blurs the line between classical ballet and modern dance, thanks to both the music of composer Igor Stravinsky and the choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, carried out originally by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Company in Paris.

The story itself is concerned with a prehistoric society in pagan Russia, which every year must sacrifice a virgin to ensure that the gods will be pleased in order to continue the group's survival. Ultimately, one such girl is chosen, and as the other performers visually align themselves with the earth, she is forced by the elders of the tribe to dance herself to death.

Throughout the whole ballet, Stravinsky, then a relatively unknown composer, uses unconventional music to not only create distance between the modern observer and the pagans on stage, but to bewilder, excite, and generally keep the listener alert through being utterly unpredictable. Following the debut of the piece, Stravinsky's fame had been assured.

Analysis

Critics at the time of the ballet's debut were utterly shocked, with a near-riot during opening night. Simply put, the music and the dance were both nothing short of revolutionary. The ballet proved that modern dance could have a place in classical performances, and just as importantly, that ballet was far from a 'safe' form of expression.

Additionally, the abject sexuality of the piece deserves some mention. While themes of sexuality had long been common on stage and in literature, this was one of the first times that such issues were pursued by contemporary artists. Europe was emerging from the relatively conservative Victorian age, and while Victoria may have only ruled in the United Kingdom, the influence of her self-discipline was felt among the ruling classes of Europe. To have a ballet that included overtly sexual motions, as well as the allusion to a virgin being given over to the elders to be exhausted, was simply too much.

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