Tonight at the BBC Proms, François-Xavier Roth conducts Stravinsky Le scare du Printemps (the Rite of Spring). It's going to be different! Roth's leading Les Siècles, the innovative period instrument ensemble. The logic is, I think, to connect Le sacre with the long tradition of French music for dance. Music for dance is physical: it needs to support movement. Roth's hero Jean-Baptiste Lully, who conducted with a stave, adding percussion effects, got so involved with the music that he rammed the stave into his foot, got gangrene and died. We can hear "modern" Rites of Spring anytime, but it will be good to hear it expressed with the vigour and brashness of the baroque.
Above is a very good, lively and physical Rite of Spring. This time we have Valery Gergiev, with the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra. Fantastic performance - vivid, spirited, barbaric. Violence is exactly what we need to hear. Diaghilev and Stravinsky were shaking up everything comfortable society expected.
Look at the dancers : their bodies contort in strange, stylized twitches. They prance on tiptoe for long periods - how painful their calf muscles must feel!. When they rest, their hips are turned 45 degrees, their feet turned sideways. They are making a sacrifice, just as the Chosen Maiden is doing. The Mariinsky dancers move with superb precision, The gestures look simple but they're not, and they're executed with such commitment that you know there's more to this ballet than dance. It is a ritual, a shamanistic ceremony. connecting to ancient mysteries of fertility and rebirth.
Gergiev is in his element. Forcefulness finessed with discipline. The narrative is savage, but not barbaric. Gergiev directs with utter precision: every note, every gesture feels right, executed with conviction. He makes the Rite of Spring explode, but it's a controlled explosion, all the more impressive because it's done with high professional standards. Listening to this feels like a work-out, physically and emotionally. Which is what it's all about. This time I thought of dense geological layers, relentless forces of nature. The Bear People respond with the only resources they really have: their bodies. Hence the Sacrifice and thus renewal. The Rite of Spring could never be an opera.
This performance, at the Champs-Élysées. uses a reconstruction of the original choreography and designs. That's been done before, but this time, Gergiev reinvigorates the piece. He's not reverential or polite. We're not listening to a museum display. He makes The Rite of Spring explode, as shocking and fresh as it might have sounded in 1913.