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!