Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rite of Spring Riot

This is the 99th anniversary of the premier of Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Rite of Spring" in Paris. It is a musical dance tribute to pre-Christian Russian paganism, especially focused on some sense of the fertility ritual. Not only is this an edgy subject for a ballet, but Stravinsky's music is fully of odd rhythms and melodic dissonance. All of this is interesting enough, but it was the reception was as tension-filled as the score. The Right of Spring riot began with the audience divided into those who appreciated the work and those who were appalled by it. Arguments broke out and became more and more intense. The police were called in to settle things down, but once the second act began, even their presence was of no use and a full-fledged riot resulted. Stravinsky himself fled the scene in fear.

Today, the idea of a ballet-inspired riot is comical. We see riots after sporting events or at funerals in countries on the verge or in the midst of civil wars, but not art-inspired riots or even serious passions from virtually anything else. Why not? Is it that we take our lives less seriously? Is it that we have achieved a level of comfort where we refuse to let anything stir the emotions to the point that rouses us from our contentment? Is it a cultural maturity where we have learned to disagree more constructively? Is it a result of social segregation where we only consume art and entertainment with those who agree with us? Is it that our arts and intellectual activities have lost the edge they had a century ago, now everything being polished for the marketplace? Why don't we have ballet hooligans?