The Rite of Spring premiere: 100 years gone

One hundred years ago tonight, The Rite of Spring premiered in Paris. Why is that so noteworthy? Because it was the birth of modernism.

At least that’s what Brooks Landon taught us in his Modernist Fiction class at Iowa. We watched this Joffrey Ballet version (the first part is embedded below) in class and I remember being moved but completely baffled.

To be honest, I am not keen on stage performances and am not a fan of modernism. What exactly is modernism? I have no clue. I may have known back in college, but I have since forgotten. A couple weeks ago I came to the conclusion that I am not a man of isms. When reading and writing, I have never found terms such as “modernism” or “post-modernism” to be useful. How can they be when I no longer remember what they mean? In a roundabout way, I guess that means I cannot not be a fan of modernism since I have no clue what it is. Regardless, I never dug much of the stuff that was considered modernist. Anyway…

Landon told us that The Rite of Spring was so controversial when it premiered that a riot broke out in the theater. There is, though, much debate about what happened that night. According to this BBC article, one account suggests that 40 people were arrested. But was there really a riot? If nothing else, Rite’s premiere is noteworthy for the animosity it created among the audience. Plus, it is very rare that one can pinpoint a date, location, and occasion as the beginning of an ideological and artistic movement (whatever the hell it is). “It happened here and then.” That is something very few people get to experience, and I have always wondered if the significance is palpable at the time or if it is gained afterward.

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