the Ballet
Ballet Encyclopedia

The Rite of Spring


Part I: the adoration of the earth: The curtain rises to reveal young men and women in separate groups. Their surroundings are primitive and dominated by the dark forces of nature. At first the dances are light hearted but they slowly change to have more aggressive and savage movements. The young men take possession of the women and carry them offstage. A fight ensues until a wise old man makes peace. There is a stunned silence, then the men throw themselves on the ground in worship, rise again, and start an even more frenzied dance. Part II: the sacrifice The young women are standing on the stage near a fire, one of them will be chosen as a sacrifice to the earth. The chosen one stands alone and still in the middle of the stage after a mystic dance, and the young members of the tribe gather around her and dance in a "crescendo or brutal excitement." Finally the chosen one joins them and the dancing grows more and more violent until it climaxes and the chosen maiden falls exhausted and dies. The men then carry her over to the sacred stone and fall prostrate. The rite is over.

of note:

It is well known that on the opening night of this ballet it was "greeted by riotous disapproval." From the beginning there were whistles and boos, which was soon countered by applause. Eventually the audience became uncontrollable, some members actually came to blows, and although the company did finish the ballet, it was very difficult to do so because the dancers could barely hear the orchestra. What upset the audience so much was not only that Nijinsky had "turned the conventions of ballet inside out" but he had dealt with the subject of barbarism, a subject that the world was not yet ready to deal with.