Last night I watched Riot at the Rite on BBC4, a recreation of the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as danced by The Ballet Russes, featuring the near riot, the difficulties both the musicians and dancers had with the music and the tension between Diaghilev and Nijinsky. Riot featured the whole ballet in costumes and set very close to the original, it is worth looking at contemporary photographs to see how close. With dance notation they are also able to follow the original choreography. It was fascinating and I felt well done, good to see dancers performing compared to that silly Black Swan film.
I’d seen a couple of performances of The Rite of Spring, one was with the same choreography but very different staging and costuming, the other was a quite wild version by a Canadian ballet company, both at Saddlers Wells. It is not a great favourite of mine but I can see why it changed so much in the arts at the time. It came out at a period of huge changes in all aspects of society, especially the arts. Picasso was painting works such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, with its angular broken up figures and African masks and faces (there was a nice touch where in Riot where Picasso was in the audience drawing a chicken!). New music and poetry were changing the soundscape of the avant-garde while experiments in pictorial composition changing ways of seeing. But this was for an elite, in many ways it could be argued that the influence on popular culture didn’t really come about for at least another 50 years.
The recreation of that first performance included the heckling and mocking of the performance, the near riot situation, something we now find hard to fathom. Perhaps the reaction of the good citizens of Caerphilly to the performance by The Sex Pistols is the closest we come! My father told me that he attended the British premier of Ravel’s Bolero at the Royal Albert Hall and throughout the performance members of the audience were heckling and whistling, nowadays it seems a very tame piece!
I only ever booed once at a theatre performance, not during the play and not at the actors but at the director Calixto Bieito when he came on. That was at a performance of Hamlet in Edinburgh by the Birmingham Rep. It was as if a bunch of ‘too clever’ sixth formers had looked in bits at the play, interpreted it, then not drawn all the pieces together back to a coherent play. It all took place in a night club and began with Claudius coming on singing He ain’t heavy, he was my brother…; later the wonderful ‘To be or not to be…’ speech was performed as a TV chat show, and there were even worse bits including live ‘rape’ which luckily have been erased from my memory. The usually three hour plus play was cut to about 1hr 20minutes. So I booed and got looked and frowned at by many others. I was annoyed not just at the stupidity of the production, but also because I knew that this would often be the only performance others would see of what is a magnificent play, it’s like only ever seeing a pub five-a-side team play football, when you could watch Port Vale! Luckily I’ve been to 6 Hamlet’s in the theatre, and there was only one other really bad one by Northern Broadsides. I don’t object to interpretations of Shakespeare and have seen some fantastic plays, but this, it felt like they were scared of the text.
I also booed at Roy Harper in about 1972. It was an expensive ticket at The Victoria Hall in Hanley. He was due on at 8.30pm. He came on stage around 9.45, mumbled a bit, started two songs he didn’t finish, mumbled about what a great time he’d had in the dressing room, fell of his stool, then shambled off, not to be seen again! Lots of people were saying things like ‘hey man that’s a genuine guy’ and things like that. I got escorted through the doors by a policeman for booing and shouting that I wanted my money back! I got rid of the two albums I had of his the next day.
I should have booed at Ginger Baker’s Army in the same venue and I think same year, they also couldn’t finish anything, the band just kept falling to bits, I just left instead!
Today’s photographs are of The Paradise in Paradise Street, Tunstall. The pub goes back around 150 years and has always been one of my favourites. The very interesting sign goes a very long way back, and looks like a set for The Rite of Spring! Taken at 10am on a chilly/mild bright day.