Chicago Repertory Ballet Celebrates 100 years of ‘The Rite of Spring’ (Preview)

Original cast of Nijinsky's Rite of Spring
Original cast of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring

100 years ago The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) opened in Paris, and caused quite the hubbub.  The age-old story of Pagan ritual sacrifice and the ushering in of the growing season as it was imagined by Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky was so controversial it nearly started a riot in the theatre.  After a brief run, the work was tabled for many years, and reworked by Leonide Massine in the 1920’s.  The original choreography was mostly the stuff of dance history books until Robert Joffrey remounted Nijinsky’s version in the 1980’s.

So far this year, I’ve caught wind of three companies in the Chicagoland area who are paying homage to the Printemps Centennial.  The Joffrey Ballet will revisit its long-time commission in its fall series: Russian Masters, and Rockford Dance Company imagined an interesting version of the story in a Hip-Hop/Ballet fusion set to the original score last March. Now, next weekend, Wade Schaaf and his company of dancers will also take on The Rite.

Why reinvent a century old ballet that wasn’t especially popular the first time around?

Why not?!? Rite of Spring is a compelling story that permeates our socio-cultural perceptions, and taking on compelling stories, new and old, is part of Wade Schaff’s mission in forming Chicago Repertory Ballet.

Rite of Spring Poster

I saw the re-creation of ‘The Rite’ years ago (the Nijinsky production) and I was immediately captivated. I think there’s something really special about the Sociology of the scenario that I find striking. Why would these people sacrifice one of their own? What must this situation feel like for the sacrifice? In some ways, I feel like this ballet is the original version of reality TV…. the audience watches this intense situation unfold itself in front of its eyes.


When I was planning this year’s programming, it was very important to me to put my first ‘story ballet’ on the program. Storytelling is a part of the company’s mission, and it was time for me to add that aspect to our programming. The exciting part was choosing what story to tell, and The Rite of Spring came to mind immediately. I have wanted to have my hand at creating my own version of this piece for years. It’s 100 years (almost to the day) from the opening of the original production that opened to riots – what a better way to celebrate the piece than to re-create it in my own way?!

While more recent Rites may not shock and appall audiences as it once did in 1913 Paris, it’s worth noting that the story holds enough value in current society to keep recreating it 100 years later.  Stravinsky’s score is a living document that inspires choreographers to create their own interpretations of an ancient tale that we can still relate to.

See Chicago Repertory Ballet’s Rite of Spring with a world premiere from Monique Haley and company premiere of Jessica Miller Tomlinson’s excellent ensemble work Architecture: Splintered and Cracked June 21 and 22 at 8pm and June 23 at 2pm at the Vittum Theatre (1012 N. Noble). Tickets are $25, available online.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.

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