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The Rite of Spring: Race, Dance, and Modernism in 1913

Sarah Kennel, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art. Sarah Kennel, National Gallery of Art curator behind the exhibit Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, discusses the critical reaction to the Rite of Spring at its 1913 Paris premiere in this lecture recorded on July 21, 2013. Kennel explores possible connections between the ballet’s choreography and contemporary dance practices that transformed popular culture in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Though on the surface the avant-garde choreography for the Rite of Spring seems wholly antithetical to the forms of popular dance, critics repeatedly invoked the same terms to describe the bodily movement in both dance styles. Furthermore, a choreographic analysis of the Rite of Spring reveals several moments in which Nijinsky appears to have “poached” certain movements from popular dancing, as well as from other movement traditions, including classical ballet, suggesting that the Rite of Spring’s modernism was partly shaped by a dialogue with mass culture.