Stravinsky’s three great early ballets: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring

Léon Bakst: Design for The Firebird, 1910

When Serge Diaghilev was looking for a composer for a new Russian-themed ballet for his Ballets Russes, several composers were considered; after Fyodor Akimenko and Nikolai Tcherepnin were both discarded, the commission was finally given to Anatoly Lyadov, however the famous story goes that when the artist/designer Alexander Golovin bumped into Lyadov in the street in St Petersburg and asked him about his progress he replied, Oh excellently. I’ve already bought the music paper.  Music history was changed forever when the 27-year-old Stravinsky was given t he commission for The Firebird (1910)Two more ballets, Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) followed before WW1 changed the world, and the Ballets Russes, forever. 

These three early masterpieces are still part of the classical music concert repertory while the ballets form part of the repertory of ballet companies the world over.  Both The Firebird and Petrushka have come down to us in their original form with Fokine’s choreography.  Nijinsky’s original ground-breaking choreography for The Rite of Spring was lost but has been reinterpreted by many choreographers, including Kenneth MacMillan, Maurice Béjart and Pina Bausch.  In 1987 the Joffrey Ballet with Millicent Hodson reconstructed Nijinsky’s ballet using archival material, photographs and commentary from books: this version gives a fascinating insight into what the people at the famous première in 1913 might have seen.

Presentation: this presentation is illustrated by PowerPoint slides, along with archive film clips and DVDs shown to illustrate the topic.

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