| by Tyler Walters & Julie Janus Walters |
Our connection with Vaslav Nijinsky’s earth-shaking original Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) dates back to the summer of 1987 when the Joffrey Ballet embarked on the task of realizing Millicent Hodson’s meticulously researched re-construction of this seminal modernist ballet. Within the first hours of the start of rehearsals with Millicent we began to recognize the power and the radical nature of the work. The percussive, introverted, inverted, angular, weighted choreography still presents unique challenges for even the most highly trained dancers today. And as we practiced the complex rhythms, patterns and dynamics of the movement, we came to understand some of the nature of the dance’s mystique and why it had caused such a riot 100 years ago.
One can only imagine the chaotic scene as described in historical accounts of Nijinsky screaming counts to the dancers from the wings of the stage as the mounting audience disturbance drowned out the music. After only a handful of performances, the dance was lost to history for more than 75 years. It was only the steadfast determination of Millicent, Kenneth Archer and Robert Joffrey that brought this “lost” work back to the dance stage so that we all may appreciate its revolutionary genius today. We fondly recall this re-construction as the fulfillment of one of Joffrey’s most cherished dreams.
Inspired in part by the vision of the legendary impresario Sergei Diaghilev (one of the most important driving forces behind the original 1913 Le Sacre), Joffrey established a unique repertoire encompassing masterpieces of historical significance and commissioned work by important contemporary dance-makers. For more than five decades, the Joffrey Ballet has continued to capture a uniquely American dance zeitgeist with new and daring choreography.
The programs being presented on March 23 and 24 are a proud testament to Joffrey’s legacy. In addition to Le Sacre du printemps, the company is performing ballets by some of the foremost choreographers working in the classical idiom today. It should be most intriguing to see these contemporary ballets in juxtaposition with Nijinsky’s most controversial work. Having danced Le Sacre on stages all around the world ourselves, we are delighted that it is being offered here at UNC’s Memorial Hall as part of The Rite of Spring at 100 celebration. The work’s elemental ritual intensity is still riveting in live performance a century after the premiere. We expect that after you see it, you’ll agree that this is an event not to be missed!
Both former principal dancers with the Joffrey Ballet, Tyler Walters and Julie Janus Walters are currently associate and assistant professors of the practice, respectively, at Duke University.
This essay is part of a series of reflections included in our program books, written by members of the University and surrounding community. To view the program book, click here.