Riot at the Rite
In the spring of 1913 Parisian businessman Gabriel Astruc opened a new theater on the Champs Elysées with the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, danced by the Ballet Russes. The rehearsal process was fraught: the orchestra disliked Stravinsky’s atonal music; the dancers disliked Nijinsky’s choreography; the relationship between Nijinsky and Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballet Russes’ impresario was strained; and public expectation wass extremely high after Nijinsky's success in L’apres-midi d'un faune.
But all that was nothing to the events on the opening night. It started with catcalls and whistles, then booing. Before long there were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work which quickly turned into fistfights in the aisles that degenerated into a riot. The police arrived before the intermission, but they restored only limited order and chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance.
After the premiere Diaghilev is reported to have commented to Nijinsky and Stravinsky at dinner that the scandal was ‘exactly what I wanted’.
Marie Rambert (Rachael Stirling) was an important member of the Ballet Russes at the time.