One hundred years ago, the Ballet Russes’ Rite of Spring (first video at right) debuted at the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris to an audience unprepared, and unwilling, to embrace Modernism. The ballet included music by Igor Stravinsky, choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, and costumes and scenery by Nicholas Roerich; though it would later be seen as a seminal work in their respective fields, it faced painstaking objection on its debut. As the curtain rose, the booing began—reportedly so loud that Nijinsky stood on a chair in the wings the entire performance, shouting numbers so his dancers could keep in time.
The ballet was primitive—the music, pounding and dissonant; the choreography, jerky and angular; the costumes, hand-painted with pagan designs—all to the outrage of a classical audience, still cozy with 19th-century tastes. But soon after the Rite’s debut, artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí and Marc Chagall would integrate their work into costumes and backdrops for the stage in a collaborative process still practiced today.
*At right, watch a reconstruction of Picasso’s “Parade” with clips from the 1917 original, followed by Matisse’s “Rouge et Noire, filmed in 1939 (Excerpt from the documentary BALLETS RUSSES directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine courtesy of Zeitgeist Films. Photograph of Matisse with dancer courtesy of Dan Geller & Dayna Goldfine.