University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

February 14, 2013: Mark Russell Smith: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Design of stage backdrop for Stravinsky’s ballet “Le Sacre du Printemps”, prepared for Diaghilev’s production, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1913.

Mark Russell Smith will discuss Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), with musical examples performed by University of Minnesota students.

The Paris debut of the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps in May 1913, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich, caused a riot and changed dance forever. This year, Northrop Dance marks the centennial of this path-breaking work with a performance by the Joffrey Ballet (Ashley C. Wheater, artistic director) featuring a recreation of the original Nijinsky/Stravinsky version. Mark Russell Smith will conduct the University of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra for this performance on Tuesday, February 26, 7:30 p.m., at the Orpheum Theatre. Also on the program are Son of Chamber Symphony (2013, choreography by Stanton Welch, music by John Adams) and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987, choreography by William Forsythe, music by Thom Willems). More information and tickets are available at
Click here for a preview of the performance.

This talk is also available as an audio download (.mp3 – 81.0 MB) or as a video podcast (.m4v – 450.1 MB).

Mark Russell Smith is Artistic Director of Orchestral Studies in the University of Minnesota’s School of Music and Music Director and Conductor of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. As Director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s New Music Projects (2007-10) he led the orchestra’s Engine 408 series, working closely with living composers and added his unique perspective to enhance that orchestra’s great tradition of fostering new works. He has collaborated with YoYo Ma and members of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota in Hún Qiáo (Bridge of Souls), a concert of remembrance and reconciliation featuring world premieres by Korean, Japanese, Chinese and American composers. Whether conducting contemporary masterpieces or bringing fresh insights to the symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms, Mark Russell Smith demonstrates consummate musicianship and enthusiastic commitment to the art of music-making – qualities that have endeared him to audiences and musicians alike.

Vaslav Nijinsky, as a member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century as well as an innovative choreographer. Le Sacre du Printemps gave him the opportunity to revolutionize dance, stimulated by his close collaborators, Igor Stravinsky, composer and Nicholas Roerich, scenarist and designer. All three felt the desire to break free from prevailing classical ballet and evoke the primitive soul of their native Russia, return to colorful peasant costumes and the vast stony regions of the Slavic north. Stravinsky captured in his music the first moment of the Russian Spring, which, as he said, was like the whole world suddenly cracking. Roerich and Stravinsky conceived a pagan rite involving elders of a tribe watching the annual fertility ritual where a young girl dances herself to death.

Stravinsky’s score of Le Sacre du Printemps is in the repertoire of most of the world’s great orchestras and more than 200 choreographers have since done creations to the score, but only The Joffrey Sacre turned legend back into artifact. It was meticulously researched and reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer and is recognized internationally as the closest possible version of Nijinsky’s original. This reconstruction is a testimony to the ardent desire of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino to revive this rare classic, which the company still presents with great care, allowing audiences to experience the defining treasures of ballet.

Maurice Béjart was born in Marseille, France in 1927. Fascinated by a recital of Serge Lifar, he decided to devote himself entirely to dance. In South France days, he had studied under Mathilde Kschessinska. In 1945, he enrolled as a corps de ballet at the Opéra de Marseille. From 1946, he had studied under Madam Rousanne (Sarkissian), Leo Staats, Madam Lyubov Egorova, and Olga Preobrajenska in Paris. In 1948, he was also formed with Janine Charrat, Yvette Chauvire, and then with Roland Petit; in addition he had studied under Vera Volkova at London.

In 1954, he founded the Ballet de l’Étoile company (dissolved in 1957). In 1960 he founded the Ballet du XXe Siècle in Brussels (dissolved in 1987). In 1987 he moved to Lausanne in Switzerland, where he founded the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, one of the most famous and successful dance companies in the world. A prolific creator, Béjart’s works span four decades, and he engaged with all the leading names in ballet, including Maya Plisetskaya, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sylvie Guillem, and Suzanne Farrell.

Cosponsored by Northrop Concerts and Lectures and the Department of Music

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