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Theatre / The Rite of Spring

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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.

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


This work provides examples of:

  • Avant Garde Music: An early example, pushing the boundaries of harmony, rhythm, and instrumental technique well beyond what was conventional in its day.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: The Joffrey Ballet reconstruction ends with the dead Chosen One held aloft that way.
  • 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.
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  • 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.)
  • Shameful Strip: Not uncommon in versions that feature the Nude Nature Dance. A particularly harrowing one in the Ballet Preljocaj version, in which the other dancers round on the virgin, hold her down and brutally strip her, and after a brief Heroic BSoD she embarks on the furious final dance of death.
  • Shout-Out: The work makes use of Russian folk melodies in some of its most famous parts.
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  • 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. Accounts vary on exactly how out-of-hand things really became, but there's no doubt many first-time listeners were perplexed or upset.
  • 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.

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