Two 'Rites', no riot, for Stravinsky centenary

By Michael Roddy

PARIS (Reuters) - Right on cue, the "chosen one" danced herself to death, twice in a row, for the centenary of Igor Stravinsky's pagan and pulsating "The Rite of Spring" ballet on Wednesday at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.

But this time, unlike at the premiere in the same theatre on May 29, 1913, there was no near riot, though there were a few boos for the second, contemporary version of the ballet.

A concert celebrating the centenary of the notoriously stormy premiere of a groundbreaking work that set the tone for music in the 20th century otherwise went off without a hitch.

Two versions of the ballet, one historic, one modern, were presented back to back, delivering the sense of "danger" Russian conductor Valery Gergiev said beforehand was essential.

"I think this piece cannot be played as an entertainment or funny rhythmic exercise. It has to have theatrical, dramatic pacing, a huge contrast ... and above all this sense of danger, because it is very ritualistic," Gergiev said on Tuesday.

Twice, in the two radically different choreographies, Gergiev's St. Petersburg-based Mariinsky Orchestra played the Rite through to the death dance for "the chosen one".

Twice the flute solo ascended and the orchestra delivered its crashing final chord as the doomed ballerina in each of the versions, one dressed in Russian peasant garb, the second in a flowing modern wrap, brought her movement to a dead halt in an awe-inspiring act of synchronization.

The roles of the "chosen one" were danced with extraordinary passion and power by Ekaterina Kondaurova and Daria Pavlenko.

The feverish music leading up to the finales of the two radically different stagings brought down the house, where the top ticket price was 89 euros ($120).

The performance was broadcast to a giant screen in a square beside the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. It was preceded by 33 music conservatory students acting as a "flashmob" in front of the theatre yelling slogans and performing a quasi-techno Rite, to evoke the atmosphere of the stormy premiere.

"I am an absolute fan, like I am of the Beatles," said 22-year-old Damien Delaunay, one of the students.

BOOS, BARKS, POLICE

On May 29, 1913, the premiere of Stravinsky's pulsating paean to pagan Russia created an uproar. Chairs were smashed, people booed, some barked like dogs and the police were called.

Almost no one could hear the music.

A century on, after the destruction wrought by two world wars and the turmoil of communist rule, Gergiev said the music no longer had the power to create the tumult of the premiere but had become part of the established repertoire in Russia.

"I think people look at it more or less with the same pride as Germans look at Beethoven's Ninth Symphony," he said.

Berlin-based choreographer Sasha Waltz, whose modern take on the work is almost like a "West Side Story" rivalry between the Sharks and the Jets street gangs, but seen in terms of relations between men and women, was thrilled it was performed on the day.

"It is sort of like a magic moment to call the spirits of the music and dance to be with us," she said.

(Editing by Pravin Char)