The Rite of Spring

On 29th May 1913, when a new ballet was first premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the avant-garde nature of the music and the new modern form of choreography caused a riot as violence broke out in the audience. The music for the ballet was composed by a young unknown composer called Igor Stravinsky, with choreography by the famous Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.  The ballet was called, The Rite of Spring (‘Le Sacre Du Printemps’) and had a pagan theme centring around a young maiden who sacrificed herself by dancing until she died.  By the following morning, the events surrounding the ballet’s opening night would become the stuff of myth and legend. Furthermore, Stravinsky’s music for the ballet later became recognised as one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

I recently had the rare opportunity to see the visionary German choreographer Pina Bausch’s version of The Rite of Spring performed by the English National Ballet.  Bausch’s version was first performed in December 1975 as part of a full evening to Stravinsky and it soon became recognised as a landmark piece of dance. Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet said, “For me, Pina’s Rite is the most successful in achieving the closest feeling to the original piece of being raw, shocking and primitive”.  The dance did present an unmistakable and visceral power.  I felt it had a violent, sexual and primordial beauty to it. It was also very challenging and demanding for the dancers. A dancer who rehearsed with the English National Ballet in this production explained, “If you are not exhausted by the end, you haven’t danced it properly”

When The Rite of Spring was first performed there would have been set ideas and assumptions about the forms and tradition that existed in classical ballet and music. When artists such as Stravinsky and Nijinsky broke away and explored new forms of music and dance then something new emerged and a new art form was created. This departure from the familiar concepts of what dance and music could be like may well be what the audience in Paris struggled with when they first encountered The Rite of Spring. 

I’ve shared this story with you is because I think it illustrates that strongly held concepts or ideas we hold about situations can sometimes stop us from experiencing the naked, fresh awareness of the moment. So often we bring labels and concepts of what is happening to a situation rather than just being with the direct experience, as it is. In my own life I am trying to allow myself to hold onto more loosely fixed ideas I have about myself and my life, and learn to trust my direct experience more fully.

“All the stability in our life is conceptual, all the change in our life is experiential”. – James Low Buddhist teacher