The Ballet That Started A Riot Turns 100

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. Anyone who was anyone was there. The cosmopolitan German aristocrat Count Harry Kessler said that “it was the most dazzling house I’ve ever seen in Paris.” What drew them on the night of May 29, 1913 was the whiff of something potentially outrageous: a brand-new ballet from the Ballets Russes and its impresario, Serge Diaghilev (left). What gave the event an extra frisson was that this “Rite of Spring” was the product of the most savage of all these so-called “Northern savages: Igor Stravinsky (right). He had scored a massive hit the previous year with “Petrushka,” which added an exciting element of modernist collage to colorful 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. No wonder the night of May 29th combusted.

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