Sacre du Printemps

Art has always been perceived to be a medium of immense cultural and emotional significance. The way any art form should be practiced is often governed by strict norms and any reproduction of the art is supposed to strictly adhere to these established protocols. But time and again, certain artists are born who breach these traditional boundaries and their work occupies the thought space of the viewer even hours after the initial viewing. ‘Sacre du Printemps’, a ballet musical play that premiered on 29 May, 1913 in Paris, is a classic example for this. It is not just a mind blowing ballet performance with a powerful orchestral score but is more of a path breaking phenomenon which left both the audience and critics in awe.

From the opening notes with a bassoon playing way beyond the standard register, to the raucous choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, none of the events that followed can be described with words such as – usual, ordinary or normal. The near riot like scenery at the Paris's Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, with factions of the audience shouting with outrage, their voices almost drowning the music, is a testimony to the extreme emotions this play evoked.

Though Nijinsky’s talent as a dancer was widely accepted and approved there were serious doubts about his choreography, which was considered unconventional and explicitly sexual. But even his worst critic would not have been prepared for the utterly striking and nearly outrageous dance movements of the play. The composition of Igor Stravinsky was unquestionably the musical innovation of the century. His music came out of the traditional dissonance and harmonic progression. He composed his music as fragments of rhythms which would provide a foundation to the dramatic sequence of the ballet play. Each fragment of his composition was rich with melody and folk rhythm. The story of the play is filled with pagan mysticism with a young girl being sacrificed to the God of Spring.

All the elements of the ‘Rite of passage’ are radically unconventional – be it the music composition, choreography or the costumes. But it is amazing to note how these seemingly disconnected elements, merges together to shape into a coherent whole that is even more brutal and out of the box than its individual components.  Yes! The Sacre du Printemps is one of the most memorable musicals of the twentieth century not as much for its content but for its sheer audacity and the nerve of Igor Stravinsky, to attempt something as unique and original as this.