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Perhaps the riot was a sign of disquiet, a feeling that the world had lost its moorings, and that barbarism was about to be let loose in the streets.
Given that the First World War would soon break out, that feeling wasn’t so wide of the mark.
Which brings us to the other great innovator of that long-ago premiere, Vaslav Nijinsky.
This strange young man, with his oddly shaped body and strange naive air (“One became aware of strange absences in his personality,” said Stravinsky) created something as epoch-making in dance as Stravinsky’s score was in music.
Igor Stravinsky, the composer, had scored a massive hit the previous year with Petrushka, which added an exciting element of modernist collage to colourful Russian folklore.Vaslav Nijinsky, the choreographer, had caused a minor scandal a few months previously, with his blatantly erotic portrayal of the lovesick faun in Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune.Stravinsky was hoping the new ballet would be an even bigger hit than Petrushka.“From all indications I can see that this piece is bound to 'emerge’ in a way that rarely happens,” he wrote gleefully to Nicholas Roerich, who was the guiding spirit behind the ballet’s vision of pagan Russia.It’s a fair bet that Diaghilev, the great entrepreneur behind the Ballets Russes, was hoping for something more than an emergence. And he got one, though what actually happened that night is something of a mystery. ’” Kessler said that people started to whisper and joke almost immediately.It’s more likely that the audience was appalled and disbelieving at the level of dissonance, which seemed to many like sheer perversity.“The music always goes to the note next to the one you expect,” wrote one exasperated critic.The dancer Dame Marie Rambert remembered that “a shout went up in the gallery: 'Un docteur! The conductor of the premiere, Pierre Monteux, was told by one of his double-bass players that “many a gentleman’s shiny top hat or soft fedora was ignominiously pulled down by an opponent over his eyes and ears, and canes were brandished like menacing implements of combat all over the theatre.” These are just a few of dozens of eyewitness reports.As the musicologist Richard Taruskin points out, the Rite is the most over-documented premiere in history, and yet so many things are obscure.It was 100 years ago that the most famous scandal in the history of the arts took place, at a swanky new theatre in Paris. The cosmopolitan German aristocrat Count Harry Kessler said that “it was the most dazzling house I’ve ever seen in Paris”.Jean Cocteau wrote that “the smart audience in tails and tulle, diamonds and ospreys, was interspersed with the suits and bandeaux of the aesthetic crowd.