Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stravinsky, Nijinsky & Russian 'Paganism': The Rite of Spring (1913)


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Nicholas Roerich.....1945....Scene-design, Igor Stravinsky "The Rite of Spring"

"Igor Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du Printemps known in English as The Rite of Spring was a sensation from the moment it first appeared on stage. The unrelentingly percussive and dissonant music of Stravinsky combined with Vaslav Nijinsky's rule-breaking choreography, Nicholas Roerich's remarkably evocative sets and costumes and the atmosphere of Paris in the years leading to the First World War led to a riot of proportions unheard of in music before or since. The noise in the theater was said to be so loud that the dancers were unable to hear the music played by the enormous orchestra and instead were forced to rely on Nijinsky's shouting the count from the wings of the theater; Stravinsky had to be escorted from the hall with a police escort……The Rite of Spring was an exploration of nature, subtitled "Scenes from Pagan Russia" that did not hide behind Victorianism: physical nature and human nature were laid bare. Musical conventions were turned on their head, from the superposition of two chords not often played simultaneously in the tableaux known as Augurs of Spring to the unpredictable accents of this repeated chord….Stravinsky's intention was to celebrate a ritual, the annual renewal of spring through the sacrifice of a virgin who was meant to dance herself to death. He sought not to illustrate the pleasant arrival of spring: the trite images of the lovely Month of May and buds opening but rather a more elemental spring: that of glaciers calving and buds struggling forth from the hardened soil……Stravinsky's music is filled with snippets of Russian folksong filtered through his own brilliant ears. Some is from previously published collections, others were collected by Stravinsky or remembered from his childhood and still others were entirely invented. The ballet uses these source melodies as raw material, tearing off tiny figures, perhaps even three notes, to use as ostinatos (repeating series of chords or notes) and patterns or as an environment for rhythm. Such treatment is even a folk derived notion. "….http://toddtarantino.com/hum/riteofspring.html

"Lawrence Morton, in a study of the origins of The Rite, records that in 1907–08 Stravinsky set to music two poems from Sergey Gorodetsky's collection Yar. Another poem in the anthology, which Stravinsky did not set but is likely to have read, is "Yarila" which, Morton observes, contains many of the basic elements from which The Rite of Spring developed, including pagan rites, sage elders, and the propitiatory sacrifice of a young maiden: "The likeness is too close to be coincidental".

"Sergey Gorodetsky… (1884 – 1967) was a Russian poet, one of the founders (together with Nikolay Gumilev) of Guild of Poets ("Цех поэтов")…..Gorodetsky entered the literary scene as a Symbolist, developing friendships with Blok, Ivanov, and Briusov. Following his brief stint with Symbolists, Gorodetsky began to associate with younger poets, forming the Acmeist group with Gumilev, Akhmatova, and Mandelshtam….The eminent historian and ethnologist Lev Gumilev (see: Kuznetsov: 1970) became interested in the Shambhala myth while a prisoner in the Siberian Gulag. He is the son of the great Russian poet Anna Akmatova & Nikolay Gumilev...

"Stravinsky, in his 1936 autobiography he described the origin of the work thus: "One day [in 1910], when I was finishing the last pages of L'Oiseau de Feu in St Petersburg, I had a fleeting vision ... I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring. Such was the theme of the Sacre du Printemps"….Stravinsky, Igor (1962). An Autobiography. New York: W. W. Norton.

Russian 'Paganism'….. the polytheistic religion that was practised by the Slavs before Christianisation. The religion possesses many common traits with other religions descended from the Proto-Indo-European religion. Old Slavic religion evolved over more than a thousand years and some parts of it were from neolithic or possibly even mesolithic times. The Earth was worshipped as Mat Zemlya and there were no temples. Rituals were performed in nature…..Mat Zemlya, also Matka Ziemia, and Mati Syra Zemlya (literally Damp Mother Earth), is the oldest deity in Slavic mythology, her identity later blended into that of Mokosh….She shares characteristics with Indo-Iranian Ardvi Sura Anahita “Humid Mother of the Earth.”….In the early Middle Ages, Mati Syra Zemlya was one of the most important deities in the Slavic world. Oaths were made binding by touching the Earth and sins were confessed into a hole in the Earth before death. She was worshipped in her natural form and was not given a human personage or likeness."

"Le Sacre du printemps….. the three primary forces behind the creation of the ballet were men of intense passion – not only for their art – but also for their heritage. All three were proud Slavs, right down to the core of their mystic, moody Russian souls. They had all participated in the development and wild success of Ballet Russes phenomenon, along with the innovative Diaghalev, but it seems that the famous threesome reached a point where they wanted to work on projects with more substance rather than the wild, splashy, colorful spectacles that had brought the Ballet Russes great fame…..Part of their desire to express their inherent Russianness may have come out of a surge of nationalism that occurred on the eve of World War I (LSDP). Another factor to consider has to do with a thread that runs through nearly all of the Russian Studies discipline, which was and is: Russia’s deep-seated (though rarely articulated) ties to a pagan past and – thanks to Peter the Great’s reforms – a contrived connection with Western Europe. Roerich, Stravinsky and Nijinsky clearly felt the time had come for a unique and powerful _expression that was strictly Slavic."….http://www.oocities.org/mushkah/Roerich.html

"Roerich also had access to a remarkable collection of Slavic cultural pieces. His patron, Princess Tenisheva of the Talashkino estate, gave him access to her collection of Russian folk art, including traditional national costumes, khlokhloma (Russian folk designs – largely pagan – painted onto wood, which was then varnished), and even ancient carved pagan idols. “In the propitious surroundings of Talashkino work on the Rite prospered and within a few days…the plan of action and titles of the dances had been decided. Roerich began work on the designs, sketching backdrops and seeking inspiration in the Princess’s collection for his costume designs”….While the swirls and circles and ladder designs found on the ancient clothing inspired the costumes, the wooden idols were even more influential in the creation of LSDP, particularly once Nijinsky joined the project. The idols must have had a major impact on the choreographer. Surviving photographs taken backstage during preparation for the premiere show stylized, abstracted poses."…..http://www.oocities.org/mushkah/Roerich.html

"….dance researcher Millicent Hodson stated: “The wooden idols are the most probable source of Nijinsky’s postures and gestures” (Hodson, 7)……Even the makeup and costumes used in the ballet were reminiscent of the ancient idols: “…parts of the carved figures are accentuated with red paint, a detail which may have motivated the stylized make-up for the dancers in Sacre” (Hodson, 7)…..Another reason to connect Nijinsky with the pagan idols so admired by Roerich is the fact that the two men enjoyed a comfortable friendship based on shared ideas and respect. In fact, Nijinsky’s sister reportedly stated that it was only with Roerich that she ever saw her brother appear relaxed……An additional source of ideas for choreography may well have been the rhythmic, circular patterns that repeated over and over in Russian pagan designs. “Many of the ground patterns in the original Sacre have antecedents in the ritual dance of shamanistic tradition – circles, concentric circles, squares, and the circle-in-the-square. Surely Roerich passed on to Nijinsky the importance of patterns in the archaic rites of the Slavs” (Hodson, 12)…..Since it seems fairly clear that Roerich and Nijinsky worked closely together on the project, it really is not much of a stretch to suppose that the choreographer developed the ground patterns for the ballet from Roerich’s ideas and the ritualistic Slavic tradition…..Certainly the steps that have been “recreated” (based on what documentation is available from the original) indicate movements that are primitive, intentionally ungraceful, which befits the pagan rite represented….The sense of intensity in emotion and movement, however, is actually quite a contrast to the set designs Roerich created for the LSDP set. His artwork for the ballet is serene, even pastoral. It is possible this contrast is deliberate – a way of showing both the peaceful Russian countryside and the passionate experiences that come out of that same setting. Culturally speaking, this would make sense, as the Russians feel a very powerful pull to their native earth and the cycles it represents."….http://www.oocities.org/mushkah/Roerich.html

"In one of the surviving letters from Roerich’s correspondence with Diaghalev, the artist (Roerich) states his objectives for LSDP. It is clear from this letter that his goal was “to present a number of scenes of earthly and celestial triumph as understood by the Slavs…My intention is that the first set should transport us to the foot of a sacred hill, in a lush plain where Slavonic tribes are gathered together to celebrate the spring rites…”

Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924-1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala.

"In the late seventies, Millicent Hodson, a doctoral candidate in dance history at Berkeley, set out, as part of her dissertation project, to reconstruct Nijinsky's "The Rite of Spring," which had its première with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris, in 1913. It was for this ballet that Stravinsky wrote his shattering score, and the action onstage was apparently no less a surprise. The spectators were shown an ancient Slavic tribe, at the beginning of spring, calling on their gods to renew the earth—a concession won, in the end, by human sacrifice. At the ballet's conclusion, a young girl danced herself to death. The choreography was aggressively anti-balletic. The dancers stood hunched over, turned in. They shuddered; they stamped. In the words of Nijinsky's sister, Bronislava, they seemed "almost bestial."….eventually she acquired a partner: Kenneth Archer, an English art historian who was doing research on Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who designed "The Rite." Hodson and Archer combined their findings, got married, and went on working, she on the dance, he on the sets and costumes. In 1987, their "Rite of Spring" was given its première, in Los Angeles, by the Joffrey Ballet."….http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2001/05/07/010507crda_dancing

Vaslav (or Vatslav) Nijinsky ( 1889-1950) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations. He could perform en pointe, a rare skill among male dancers at the time and his ability to perform seemingly gravity-defying leaps was legendary…. In 1912 Nijinsky began choreographing his own ballets, including L'après-midi d'un faune (1912), Jeux (1913), and Till Eulenspiegel (1916). At the premier of Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) fights broke out in the audience between those who loved and hated a totally new style of ballet….After a tour of South America in 1917, and due to travel difficulties imposed by the war, the family settled in Switzerland, where his mental condition continued to deteriorate. The rest of his life was spent suffering from mental illness which incapacitated him beyond the ability to dance again in public…..Nijinsky created choreography that exceeded the limits of traditional ballet and propriety. For the first time, his audiences were experiencing the futuristic, new direction of modern dance. The radically angular movements expressed the heart of Stravinsky's radically modern score. Unfortunately, Nijinsky's new trends in dance caused a riotous reaction at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées when they premiered in Paris. As the title character in L'après-midi d'un faune, in the final tableau (or scene), he mimed masturbation with the scarf of a nymph, causing a scandal; he was defended by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and Marcel Proust. Violence broke out in the audience as The Rite of Spring premiered. The theme of the ballet centered around a young maiden who was sacrificing herself by dancing until she died."….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaslav_Nijinsky

"Paganism is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions—primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, it has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic folk/ethnic religion…..The term pagan was historically used as one of several pejorative Christian counterparts to "gentile" (גוי / נכרי) as used in the Hebrew Bible—comparable to "infidel" or "heretic". Modern ethnologists often avoid this broad usage in favour of more specific and less potentially offensive terms such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism when referring to traditional or historical faiths."….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism



John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….October 2013


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