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 and had a pagan theme centring around a young maiden who was sacrificing herself by dancing until she died. By the following morning the events surronding the ballet’s opening night would become the stuff of myth and legend. Furthemore, Stravinsky’s music for the ballet later became recognised as one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

I have had the opportunity to hear the Rite of Spring performed and it does, I feel, have a violent, primordial beauty to it. The reason I share this story with you is because I think it illustrates when strongly held concepts or ideas we hold about a situation 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. When the Rite of Spring was first performed there would have been set ideas and asumptions 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, a new art form was created.

If we percieve life with a very ridged concepts then we will find ourselves challenged by our direct experience, which is often offering us something very different. This is what the audience in Paris was struggling with when they first encountered The Rite of Spring. 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 concepts are a overlaying of our direct experience and offer us an abstracted sense of reality of any given situation. Maybe we could hold more lightly any ideas or thoughts about what we think will happen and just be open through our body and our senses to the mystery of the direct experience as it unfolds?

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