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Theatre: The Rite of Spring

I-Gor-Stra-Vin-Sky-Is-A-Son-Of-A-Bitch.
—Mnemonic used by orchestras to count off the times in one section where a single chord is repeated.

The Rite of Spring is a groundbreaking ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The story is simple enough: A young girl dances herself to death in order to provide a sacrifice for a pagan ritual. However, the work is famous for its sexual content, primitivism, radically anti-ballet dance style, and extremely innovative and dissonant musical score, all of which caused a huge uproar when it premiered in Paris in 1913. In the end, Rite of Spring had a huge influence on the fields of both music and dance, and it is still very highly regarded today.

The work was famously used in Fantasia, which unfortunately has also lead many people to incorrectly associate the ballet with dinosaurs.


This work provides examples of:

  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted by Kenneth MacMillan's 1962 version for the Royal Ballet. Although the Chosen One was set on a woman, MacMillan always intended the part to be open to either sex, and the RB's most recent staging used men in the role.
  • Doomed Protagonist: We are aware from the start that a young girl will dance herself to death.
  • Downer Ending: The girl dances herself to death.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: The iconic bassoon solo which opens the piece. It's haunting and threatening.
  • A Fête Worse Than Death: Come party at our pagan celebration in honor of springtime! Dancing, music, and Human Sacrifice!
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Because you have to dance yourself to death.
  • Lost Episode: Nijinsky's original choreography, despite being groundbreaking for its time, was never properly recorded, so most later productions rechoreographed it using their own material. The closest anyone's ever gotten to an authentic revival of Nijinsky's choreography was the Joffrey Ballet's painstaking restoration in 1987.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: In fact so much that she needs to dance herself to death to make a new spring happen.
  • Nude Nature Dance: The choreography is inspired by pagan nature rituals; nudity is optional but does happen in some performances.
  • Produce Pelting: The riot at the premiere included some people flinging vegetables at the orchestra. (This led to the conspiracy theory that at least some concertgoers had come already prepared to make a disturbance.)
  • Shout-Out:
    • The work makes use of Russian folk melodies in some of its most famous parts.
    • Famously used in Fantasia, though with a different theme about the creation of Earth until the extinction of the dinosaurs.
    • A recording of the final section of the score was used on the Voyager Golden Record, sent in space in 1977.
    • Frank Zappa referenced the piece a lot in his music too. Amnesia Vivace, Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin (Absolutely Free), Fountain Of Love (Cruising with Ruben & the Jets) and In-A-Gadda-Stravinsky from Guitar directly quote from it. The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet from Freak Out! has a thematical reference in one of the titles, which is called: Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer.
  • Sensory Abuse: The reason people rioted was because it was so grating on the ears and eyes in comparison to normal ballet.
  • Serious Business: The first performance was so radically unconventional that it supposedly caused a riot in the theatre. It didn't, of course, but the crowd was extremely hostile.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: In the Nijinsky version, the Chosen One spends some minutes staring numbly out at the audience after she is selected for the rite.
  • Tough Room: Infamously, the abovementioned riot spoiled the premiere.
  • Uncommon Time: Stravinsky's score does this a lot. For example, "The Naming and Honoring of the Chosen One" changes, in consecutive measures, from 9/8 to 5/8 to 7/8 to 3/8 to 4/8 to 7/4 to 3/4.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The most famous classical piece to explore this theme.

Alternative Title(s):

The Rite Of Spring