Rite of Spring Moments

As winter recedes and springtime begins to blossom, you may feel rejuvenation in the air, perhaps a sudden urge to deep-clean your surroundings, and maybe even a desire to improve your professional game. Springtime can also usher in more dramatic changes that are so drastically different that our first instinct is to resist them — even though in the long run they can be the best thing that could have happened to us.

An example of this tendency can be found in the story of the first performance of The Rite of Spring. The 1913 audience of the Russian Ballet hated Igor Stravinsky’s (eventual) masterwork so much that they rioted.

You may already know that this piece of music starts off charming and classic, even if it is a bit eerie. But as soon as the curtain comes up the music and dancing work together to develop a performance that becomes more and more disturbing and dissonant. When asked how long the offending music would last, Stravinsky’s reported to have said, “To the end, my dear.”

Then there was the dancing. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, his ballet dancers didn’t inspire awe with their upwards, flowing movements, and beautiful jumping. Instead, they exhibited strange, jerky movements and awkward poses that seemed to pull them down to the earth.

Within the first minutes of the show’s premiere on that hot summer night, whispers and heckles could be heard. As the strangled, high-pitched bassoon melody was wrapped in fluttering woodwinds, someone in the back called for a doctor. With the pulsating and relentless minor cords taking root, people started yelling at the stage and each other. Soon fights broke out, with people using their canes as weapons. It’s reported that someone may have challenged another to a dual, and that 40 people were arrested after the police were called.

Then again, it could have been the content of the ballet that that was so offensive. The Rite of Spring depicts a pagan ritual murder, ending in a young virgin picked for sacrifice dancing herself to death. Perhaps is was this very notion of a primitive society being shown on stage, that caused the men in their tuxedos and the women in their furs and diamonds to turn on each other.

Yet, surrounded by all the anger and shouting, there were some in the audience who realized they were witnessing something deeply transformative that would help usher in the genre of modern dance into the mainstream. French writer Jacques Rivière recalled, “There is something profoundly blind about this dance. There is an enormous question being carried about by all these creatures moving before our eyes.”

Throughout that first night, the performers played and danced all the way to the end. Most reports assert that some of the remaining audience gave the show a standing ovation, even if they had to fight to be heard over the noise of the protesters. A year after this first performance, The Rite of Spring was performed in Paris. This time there was no riot and the audience revered it as the masterwork it was.

Every now and again, life presents us with a “Rise of Spring moment” where everything we thought we new about ourselves or our life circumstances is turned inside out. Often, our first reaction is to judge what’s happening, react with emotion — be it anger and/or frustration — feel afraid or wallow in self-pity.

However, often these uncomfortable moments in life are just what we need to break us out of endless cycles, bad habits or limiting beliefs. When we are able to sit back, take in the chaos and allow it to unfold without attempting to control or manipulate the experience, we can often discover more readily what lesson we can glean from the situation and where the next opportunity lies.

To do that, however, requires a willingness to accept the new, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel at first. Just as some audience members were able to discover the method to Stravinsky’s madness on that first night in 1913, we too can take a step back to accept what life sends our way, and make something grand and memorable out of it.

“I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.” — Igor Stravinsky

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