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Episode #103: Riot! At The Ballet




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I like this episode.


I mean, there’s a ballet and a riot and a piece of music that has become one of the most important compositions in history. What’s not to like?


And then the whole story gives me a chance to mess around with Modernism and the Eiffel Tower and the Impressionists and Darwin and Marx and a bunch of other interesting and relevant diversions. This is the mark of a good superficial history for me: an event that lets me dig a bit deeper into the world around it. The episode about Disco Demolition Night led me into gay culture and the fading hippie dream in the 1970s. The Boss And The Berlin Wall went into the Cold War and the fall of Communism. It's fun trying to contextualize things historically, at least to the extent that my brain and medium will allow.


I hope this week’s episode was fun for you too.


It’s a lesson in believing in your own vision. If you haven’t listened to the episode yet, it’s an account of a riot that broke out at the premiere of the now famous ballet The Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913. The score and the accompanying choreography were wildly avant-garde at the time, and they have a lot to do with why we remember names like Stravinsky and Nijinksy over a hundred years later. Audiences were split enough on the content to start throwing things – including punches – at the premiere, but composer Stravinsky and choreographer Nijinksy weren’t swayed from their unorthodox vision of how the music and dancing should be. Stravinsky has said that he let The Right of Spring come through him. He threw out all of the rules and created something truly enduring.


Or maybe it's better to say something truly enduring was created through him. This is creation 101. Step back and allow the work. I have struggled with this a lot, particularly as a writer. There was a time when I could do it, but I lost it somewhere along the way and it’s been very difficult to get it back. I hope it happens at least a little bit in these podcast presentations. There was divinity in Stravinsky’s work. I don’t know how much divinity there is in my talking about his work, but I do try to allow it to come through me if I can.


Anyway, if you're trying to create something, take heart from Stravinsky and monsieur Eiffel and the Impressionist painters and the Cubists who wanted to do something different. They had faith in their creative intuition and so can you. If you’re coming up against some resistance out there, it’s probably a sign that you’re on the right track. Let’s hope we all live long enough to see our genius recognized!


As I said on the episode, the original and controversial choreography that seemed to have been lost forever was painstakingly reconstructed by a person called Millicent Hodson over the course of seven years in the 1980s. The resulting production at the Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles was a massive hit, and thanks to her work, we can see what all of the fuss was about back in 1913. You can hear the curious bassoon intro and see the bizarre (and so difficult) The Augurs of the Spring below.


Thanks as ever for listening. I’d love to hear your feedback on the episode or your ideas for future episodes if you have any. Contact me here to say hello!


And now, a glimpse at The Rite of Spring:


And, for an extra bonus, Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet: