What has masturbation, therapy and Millwall football club have in common? –The Rite of Spring evidently.
The Rite of Spring has been following me like a feeling of guilt for some time, now it’s back on the stage to haunt me again.
During my first lecture on ‘Modernist’ music at university, the lecturer projected a page from Stravinsky’s ‘Rite’ onto a wall twenty foot high, turned to us and said ’makes you want to wank don’t it?’
The notes he was showing us were from the final part of the ‘ballet’ the Sacrificial Dance. You may know that this is the part when the young girl dances herself to death as part of a pagan ritual, as she has been chosen and is witnessed by the elders. Our sexually potent Lecturer explained that he felt that Classical music was ‘above the waist’ and the Rite ‘below’.
The music for Sacrificial Dance is the part that is most associated with Rock music and has been mentioned as an influence by many rock bands. The dance itself was first performed in 1913, and is said that this was the birth of Modernism. Some people put it as early as before the turn of the [20th] century (I go for 1910). For me the work is about the importance and continuation of the strength of the piece itself. However, it may be prudent to say that by all accounts there was a near riot during the first performance, due in some part to the shock of the new – and boy was it new.
During my degree we could choose a ‘vocational’ module and I chose dance, and within one week it was the Rite again. The main thing that the dance lectures spoke about was the rawness of the piece, plus the original ‘steps/choreography by Nijinsky were no longer with us, which made it all the more intriguing. Part of the module was a dance therapy unit and the Rite was again used as a vehicle of analysis and healing. If you have seen the Sacrificial Dance, you may recall it being a bit nightmarish (or is that just me?). The hopelessness of the girl encircled like a caged animal, pounding herself with self-stabbing gestures in desperation is visceral. The dance to the death is one thing, but for me the key power is the people watching all this go on – it was starting to get to me. It’s pretty heavy stuff now days, God knows what the gentile audience thought of it back in 1913, when they thought they were going to see some sweet fluff ‘on pointe’.
Our dance lecturer did go through a list of other performances of the Rite through the years, and named the Martha Graham piece as a stand out work. During the great Monica Mason (what a lovely woman she is) exhibition I saw last year at Covent Garden, enlightened me of her work on MacMillan’s Rite in 62, but I have much more to say and about her and Graham in later blogs. However many including me view the work of Pina Bausch as THE most powerful, which you can see in the wonderful documentary ‘Pina’ by Wim Wenders – in 3D!
Some years later, due to the type of work I was doing I had got to know a roofer who lived on a large south London council estate with his roofer son Stuart. Once when I visited them the Dad told me that Stu had had a late night the night before, and laughed saying that I wouldn’t get much sense out of him. Yet when I spoke to Stuart, he told me he had been to Millwall[Football Club] with a mate, then went into town [London] and ended up in the Royal Albert Hall as they had ‘fought’ for tickets to see the Rite of… He said they had been waiting for [Pierre] Boulez to conduct the The Rite with the European Youth Orchestra for some time. He said that towards the end people had got over the barrier by the stage and were chanting BOULEZ-BOULEZ – BOULEZ –
Good to see Kinder Agguini designing for the costumes for the new Rite at the English National Ballet, very different and interesting costumes I must say, but as long as it’s played hard it will work.
So if you need a therapeutic contained space to dump all those unwanted uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, a transitional metaphor, or catharsis for change, and Millwall is not playing, – try the Rite.