Thank goodness neither the French nor Nijinsky had the last word on “The Rite of Spring.”
“Shut up!” shouted the audience at the 1913 premiere in Paris of Stravinsky’s music and Nijinsky’s ballet, performed by the Ballets Russes. Stravinsky, who was sitting near the orchestra, stormed backstage.
“I have never again been that angry,” he wrote.
He watched the rest of the performance from the wings, steadying Nijinsky as he stood on a chair shouting counts to his dancers over the uproar. The dancers, stamping their way through Nijinsky’s imagined ritual of human sacrifice, “knew what they were doing, at least,” Stravinsky noted, “even though what they were doing often had nothing to do with the music.” Za-zing!
Twenty-five years later, another man heard the music and knew exactly what to do with it. “This is marvelous!” Walt Disney exclaimed in a meeting room at Disney Studio in 1938. “It would be perfect for prehistoric animals.”