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Arts and Entertainment

Joffrey Ballet brings Rite of Spring to Blossom
The original Vaslav Nijinsky dance excited Paris in 1913 with original costumes.

Mark Urycki
The Rite of Spring is the story of a Slavic tribe that welcomes the spring with a ritual sacrifice. Dancers Stacy Joy Keller, Erica Lynette Edwards, and Jennifer Goodman
Courtesy of Herbert-Migdoll
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In The Region:

This weekend should be a good one for fans of dance in Northeast Ohio. The month-long Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival concludes with performances by the New York company Vanaver Caravan at Goodyear Metro Park in Akron. Vanaver presents a series of folk dances from around the world.  

At Blossom Music Center, there' another kind of folk dance. It' the Joffrey Ballet' production of the “The Rite of Spring” with the Cleveland Orchestra. When that dance premiered 100 years ago, it set off a near riot that still reverberates today.

Listen: Ashley Wheater discusses "The Rite"

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Many people know that Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking score for “The Rite of Spring” sparked outrage for its odd rhythms and dissonant chords. But the upheaval from the Paris audience in 1913 really came when they saw the choreography of 25-year-old Vaslav Nijinsky and the costumes of Nicholas Roerich.

A near riot
Stravinsky himself described the scene in a 1965 documentary. The audience was already getting upset with the opening score but as the curtain opened they laid eyes on a primitive tribe of dancers with their hair in long braids.

“When the curtain opened on a group of knock-kneed and long braided Lolitas jumping up and down the storm broke.”  

Nijinsky’s choreography for The Rite of Spring was only performed a few more times. It was not filmed or written down. But in the 1970’s, dance historian Millicent Hodson began to reconstruct it. She used notes by members of the original dance troupe the Ballet Russe. And she interviewed the company’s ballet mistress, who was still alive. Ashley Wheater was a young dancer with the Joffrey Ballet when Hodson finished her resurrection of the Nijinsky’s work. "She spent years and years researching it and then in 1986 in the summer we spent months working on it and putting it together and then we premiered it the next year in ’87," Wheater said.

A difficult dance
"It seems, even though it certainly isn’t what we consider to be ballet bit it’s very rhythmically challenging and it’s quite...tribal. So your legs are doing one rhythm and your upper body is counter-acting the other rhythm underneath it. So you’re legs might be going on the accents of one and five but your arms are going on maybe two and three."

It was the first time the dance had been seen in seven decades. Wheater is now the artistic director for Joffrey and is bringing back “The Rite of Spring” or “Le Sacre du Printemp,” as its titled, for its 100th anniversary.

In the 80’s, Robert Joffrey spent a lot of time and money to recreate the costumes and that’s what will be seen this weekend. The Slavic tribe in the story is marking the onset of spring with a ritual sacrifice of one of its young maidens. On Saturday night, Joanna Wozniak dances the role of “The Chosen One,” the girl who dances herself to death.  

“You do physically get very very fatigued. So, it takes a certain stamina to build into that and to be able to execute the shapes of the movement and be able to push yourself through it.”  

Expecting a riot at Blossom?
Wheater doesn’t expect the Blossom audience to riot at the Parisians did in 1913. 

“It makes a huge difference to have the Joffrey with the Cleveland Orchestra in a live performance… [The relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra] is incredibly special to us. We’re excited to be back.  Everyone in the company loves coming to Blossom.”

The Joffrey Ballet performs “The Rite of Spring” and other dances Saturday and Sunday with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Blossom music Center.

Related WKSU Stories

Joffrey Ballet returns to Blossom
Monday, August 30, 2010

The Joffrey Ballet returns to Blossom Music Center for the first time in three decades
Friday, August 21, 2009

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