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In 1910 Igor Stravinsky's first ballet for the Ballets Russes, The Firebird, was premiered.

Igor Stravinsky is one of the most important musical figures in the history of 20th-century ballet. Although he is well known for his collaboration with choreographer George Balanchine, he started his career as a ballet composer with the impressario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.

The Ballets Russes were causing a sensation in Paris with their exotic and exciting ballets. In 1909, Diaghilev heard some early orchestral pieces by Stravinsky and decided to commission a traditional fairytale ballet from the young composers. The Firebird, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine, was the result.

The ballet was such a success that Diaghilev commissioned a second, and Petrushka was premiered in 1911. The next great collaboration between the two is perhaps their most famous, or infamous...

The painter Nicholas Roerich had been working with Stravinsky on an idea for a ballet based on ancient Russian pagan ritual. They took the idea to Diaghilev, and he agreed in principal to the idea. The music Stravinsky began to write was like nothing ever heard before. Although he did use some traditional Russian music, gone were the lush melodies and exciting dances of The Firebird. This new music was dissonant, highly rhythmical and aggressive.

Fokine had fallen out of favour with Diaghilev, and the choreographer was to be the impressario's new favourite, a young and hugely talented Russian dancer called Vaslav Nijinsky. Nijinsky took Stravinsky's complicated music and imposed further complication upon it. Despite the protests of the dancers, who delared it undancable, rehearsals went ahead.

The premiere of The Rite of Spring, on 29 May 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, has gone down in history as one of the greatest of artistic scandals. Although it is not really known whether Diaghilev orchestrated some of it in order to make the ballet a success, the performance caused a riot, quite literally. There was cat-calling and jeering. Whistles were blown, things were thrown around the auditorium and fights broke out.

Nijinsky's original choreography was never fully recorded, but Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer have spent years reconstructing it, and piecing together clues about the costumes. To see some photos of their revival of The Rite of Spring, click on the thumbnails below.





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