Tuesday, August 08, 2006

‘Riot at the Rite’

24 March 2006

This week I watched ‘Riot at the Rite’ – the BBC2 drama about the opening night of The Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913. I must admit I’ve never really ’got’ Stravinsky – but this excellent programme began to open my eyes. It showed the difficult rehearsals – with both dancers and orchestra – and the arguments between Stravinsky, Nijinsky and Diaghilev – all of whom claimed that the work was their idea – as did Roerich, the designer, a withdrawn, bearded, pipe-smoker who did not speak at all in this drama and, at the end of the controversial opening performance, quietly slipped out the stage door and walked alone into the night, gently sucking his pipe.

I also enjoyed the two audience members who spent the whole performance spotting famous people in the auditorium: at one point one of them points to a young man a couple of rows in front of them who is drawing on a sketch pad and says “You know who that is?” – his companion shakes his head and the first man says “Picasso” – the second man asks “What is he drawing?” – the first man leans over to get a look and then whispers loudly “a chicken!” – the music starts again and the second man mouths silently “Why?” to which the first man slowly mouths the reply “I – don’t – know!”.

The programme was a drama, a comedy and a love story – but also incorporated a full continuous performance of The Rite of Spring performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Finnish National Ballet with choreography based on Nijinsky’s original and sets modeled on Roerich’s designs. Having seen the amount of work that had gone into the production you really felt for the performers when the heckling started but I also really began to enjoy watching the ballet and understanding the music for the first time. Then the final scene with the “what happened next” text superimposed on Nijinsky alone on the stage in an empty theatre added a poignant twist. Wonderful television.

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