Evening of one-act ballets: Les Noces. Le Sacre du printemps.
Scene plan, music and text by Igor Stravinsky (1923)
Choreography by Bronislava Nijinska (1923)
Décor and Costumes: Natalia Goncharova (1923)
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Staged: Howard Sayette
Décor reproduced: Boris Kaminsky
Costumes reproduced: Tatiana Noginova
Lighting: Vladimir Lukin
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Yegor Kartashov
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For over ten years Stravinsky was consumed with the idea of Les Noces, a choral work as "a sequence of typical wedding episodes, a reproduction from fragments typical of this ceremony of conversations." The composer sought out the musical form, the orchestral ensemble and the traditional folkloric text, which would represent a genuine Russian rite, and not describe a wedding plot in an a la russe stylisation.
Stravinsky's proposed "idea of ritual and impersonal action" found its dazzling embodiment in the choreography of Bronislava Nijinska. It was to her, a classical dancer who had once been a worthy partner and co-conspirator of her brother Vaslav, and who in the post-revolutionary years had dedicated herself to seeking out a new movement, that Diaghilev entrusted the staging of this work that was so precious to him. And, as usual, he had not miscalculated. The Paris premiere of Les Noces in 1923 emerged as a forum, and it revealed to the world a choreographer for whom this production alone would have been enough to ensure entry to the pantheon of great 20th century choreographers.
Responding to the nuances of the capricious rhythms and metrics of the music, in Les Noces the movement spoke and lived, needing no pantomime, stage props and realistic costumes. A dance of the ensemble. In the choreographer's mind, each dancer was to blend with the whole through the movement. The Bride and the Groom are mere parts of the combined ensemble, which conveyed the dramatic character of fate and the perpetuity of the protagonists in an old-style peasant wedding: just like in the maiden's braids, which before the wedding are unplaited into two parts and redressed in a woman's hairstyle, the maidens leaned their heads on each other's shoulders, bowing in ritual lamentation, leaned their heads as on an executioner's block. The extreme minimalism in subordination to the dance in the rather cool geometry of the choreographic drawing, in the insistent repetition of the monotonous movements, in the simplicity of the bicoloured brown and white costumes conceived by Natalia Goncharova and in the intentional impassivity of the performers – everything in the ballet was of its time in the context of the avant-garde of the 1920s. And in the sharp, contemporary nature of the ballet the primordial Russian nature of Les Noces was not lost – not cheaply popular and souvenir-like, but conditionally ritualistic, where the plot unfolds as if in a clockwork mechanism: the figures of the dancers intermingle monotonously, literally submitting to the will of one master, the ancient and immutable ritual.
World premiere: 13 June 1923, Les Ballets Russes de Serge de Diaghilev, Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique, Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre:9 June 2003
Running time 20 minutes
Age category 12+
"Le Sacre du printemps"
Musiс by Igor Stravinsky
Scene plan: Igor Stravinsky and Nicholas Roerich
Choreography by Millicent Hodson (1987) inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky (1913)
Décor and costumes after Nicholas Roerich
Revival of the sets and costumes and supervision – Kenneth Archer
(Revived sets and costumes © 1987 Kenneth Archer)
Set Revival Designer – Boris Kaminsky
Costume Revival Technologist – Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer – Sergei Lukin
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
”I came up with the idea for Le Sacre du Printemps while I was still composing The Firebird. I pictured a scene of some pagan rite in which a girl who was to be the sacrifice dances herself to death. But this vision came with no specific musical idea at all <…>. In July 1911, after the premiere of Pétrouchka, I travelled to the estate of Princess Tenisheva near Smolensk in order to meet Nicholas Roerich there and compile a stage plan for Le Sacre du Printemps. <…> I began to work with Roerich and in a few days’ time the plan of the action onstage and the names of the dances had been worked out. Roerich also made sketches of his famous backdrops, Polovtsian in spirit, as well as sketches for the costumes based on actual examples in the collection of Princess Tenisheva. Apropos, our ballet was called Sacred Spring in Russian. Le Sacre du Printemps which Bakst came up with is only suitable for French. In English, the title The Coronation of Spring was closer to my original idea than The Rite of Spring. <…>
The fact that the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913 was surrounded by scandal is a fact probably known by everyone now. Although, however strange it may seem, I myself was totally unprepared for such an explosion of passions. The reaction of the musicians to orchestral rehearsals had not foretold this, while the plot unfolding on the stage didn’t really seem to justify causing such a riot. The ballet dancers had rehearsed for months and knew what they were doing, although what they were doing often had nothing in common with the music. <…>
The music seemed so normal and close to me, I loved it and could not understand why people who had not even heard it were protesting beforehand. Enraged, I came back-stage where I saw Diaghilev, dimming and then raising the lights in the auditorium – the last means of pacifying the audience. To the very end of the performance, I stood back-stage behind Nijinsky, holding him by his tail-coat; he stood on a chair and like a helmsman was shouting out the numbers to the dancers. It is with great pleasure that I recall the first concert performance of Le Sacre du Printemps the next year – a triumph that a composer rarely witnesses. Whether the acclamation of the young people who filled the hall of the Paris Casino was something greater than a simple review of the damning verdict announced one year ago in such an ugly fashion is not for me to say, but I thought that they meant something greater.
When composing Le Sacre du Printemps I was not being led by any system. When I think about other composers of that time who interested me – about Berg whose talent is synthetic (in the finest sense of the word), Webern who was an analysist and Schoenberg who united both of these qualities – the greater it seems to me that their music is more theoretical than that of Le Sacre du Printemps; and these composers were referring to a great tradition, while Le Sacre du Printemps had been preceded by very little indeed. It was only my sense of sound that helped me. I heard and wrote down only what I heard. I was the vessel through which Le Sacre du Printemps passed".
Igor Stravinsky. Dialogues
The world premiere of the ballet choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky: 29 May 1913, Les Ballets Russes de Serge de Diaghilev, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 9 June 2003
The premiere of the revival: 13 July 2012
Running time 40 minutes
<…> I made haste to complete Le Sacre as I wanted Diaghilev to stage it in the 1912 season. <…> The fact that the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps was surrounded by scandal is a fact probably known by everyone now. Although, however strange it may seem, I myself was totally unprepared for such an explosion of passions. The reaction of the musicians to orchestral rehearsals had not foretold this, while the plot unfolding on the stage didn’t really seem to justify causing such a riot. The ballet dancers had rehearsed for months and knew what they were doing, although what they were doing often had nothing in common with the music. “I will count to forty; in the meantime, you can play,” Nijinsky said to me, “and we’ll see where we become separated.” He couldn’t understand that if indeed, we became separated in one particular instance it didn’t mean that the rest of the time we had been together. The dancers chose to follow the counts that Nijinsky beat out rather than the musical tempo. Nijinsky, of course, counted in Russian, and in as much as in Russian numbers after ten are made up of numerous syllables – vosemnadtsat (eighteen), for example – at a fast tempo, neither he nor the dancers could follow the music.
After 1913 I saw only one stage production of Le Sacre du Printemps – that was Diaghilev’s revival in 1920. Then the accord between the music and the dance was better than in 1913, but Massine’s choreography was too gymnastic and in the style of Dalcroze for meto like it.
It was then that I understood that I preferred Le Sacre du Printemps to be performed in concert. Twice I reworked a few sections from Le Sacre du Printemps – in 1921 for Diaghilev’s production and then in 1943 (only The Great Sacrificial Dance) for a performance (which never took place) by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. <…> But I could rework my own music endlessly <…>. When composing Le Sacre du Printemps I was led by no specific system. <…> It was only my sense of sound that helped me. I heard and wrote down only what I heard. I was the vessel through which Le Sacre du Printemps passed.” Igor Stravinsky. Dialogues
Age category 12+
1 Theatre Square
Mariinsky-2 (New Theatre):
34 Dekabristov Street
Mariinsky Concert Hall:
20 Pisareva street