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Theatre / The Rite of Spring

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The pagan ritual, as recreated by The Joffrey Ballet. Note the lack of dinosaurs.

—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 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.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The sacrifice is not a quick, merciful death. Instead, the virgin has to dance herself to exhaustion, until she collapses. That could take hours or days even. The Joffrey Ballet makes it clear that it's a frenzied, fast dance which will tire out the virgin faster than a slower one would.
  • 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. At least there's the consolation that onstage, you can tell the dancer isn't literally doing that and it's dramatized for show.
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  • 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!
  • Got Volunteered: Played for Drama. If you fall out of line of the dance twice, you're the sacrifice.
  • Hope Spot: The virgin chosen for death has to fall out of the dance twice. Even though the virgin in question falls once, there's still a chance for her to survive. But then she falls a second time, and the other girls quickly nominate her for a sacrifice.
  • Humans Are Bastards: When the virgin falls out of line twice in the Joffrey Ballet, she tries to run for it. The other girls block her way and push her into the middle. Then they dance in the celebration that it wasn't them this year.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Because you have to dance yourself to death.
  • 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.)
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Subverted; in the Joffrey Ballet, the virgin tries to run after she falls twice. The other girls won't let her.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "The Sacrifice" is morose and suspenseful, with the virgin being chosen. As she stares in Heroic BSoD, the other girls dance in a celebration that it wasn't them.
  • 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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