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In an art deco theatre on the Avenue Montaigne

off the Champs Élysées – newly built, its exterior

(for style and mechanics in concrete) the interior

(gilt, lead paint and plush) still smelling fresh – there is a riot

on the evening of May 29th at the premiere

of the ballet, ‘The Rite of Spring’, by Igor Stravinsky,

Vaslav Nijinsky and Nicholas Roerich.


This is the year the House of Romanov celebrates

its three hundredth anniversary, the year there are two

Balkan Wars, Ford introduces an assembly line,

Pablo Picasso paints his Cubist ‘Guitar, Glass and Bottle’

and the first volume – ‘Swann’s Way’ – is published

of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time.’


Proust and Picasso were in the first night audience – as were

Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Gertrude Stein: luminaries

of a luminous city. The riot began, it is said,

with derisive laughter as the first notes were played.

Vegetables were thrown. The dancers could not hear the orchestra.

Nijinsky, dancer as well as choreographer,

called out the steps. Forty people were ejected – or maybe

no one was. The impresario, Sergei Diaghilev,

was a master of PR, hence, perhaps, the greengrocery.

Modernism in music was so successfully launched

on an eventually calm sea that Walt Disney used

the opening bars in ‘Fantasia’, conveyor belt art

in the year of the Blitzkreig. Yet art’s truth transcends as always.

How such fierce music and brutal dance overtured, by accident,

the sacrificial Eurasian violence of the rest of the century!




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Howard Gardener
    December 20, 2013

    I was wondering about where those vegetables came from and then I read your line about Diaghilev. The exhibition at the V+A a few years ago described Diaghilev as “dictator, devil, charlatan, sorcerer, charmer”. I would have loved to have seen him played by Groucho Marx.

  • John Huddart
    January 8, 2014

    How fitting that the year that ends one era and century, should turn upon so complex a series of links, as you have pointed out. There is something Hardyesque in their Immanence!

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