"We still don't have all the money (an estimated $200,000 to $300,000), but we're doing it," he says on the phone from New York. "It's been hard to get money for 'Sacre.' So many people don't know about it and its importance. Sometimes it's discouraging, but it's important that we challenge ourselves, that we tackle this for the company, for Nijinsky, before it goes away."
It bothers him that the budget squeeze mandates the use of a reduced arrangement of the score ("If someone would only give me a grant"). He regrets, too, that asthma attacks have prevented him from supervising the Iowa rehearsals. ("I've been resting on doctor's orders.")
His interest in restaging the ballet goes back further than even Hodson's. In 1955, for example, he stayed in London with Marie Rambert, Nijinsky's rehearsal assistant on "Sacre" and the matriarch of British ballet. He recalls Rambert explaining "how complicated the ballet was and how brilliant. People never gave Nijinsky credit for how well organized it was. Madame said Nijinsky wanted to set every detail--the hands, the face, the whole body. He knew every step of the ballet and, on opening night, he even put all the makeup on the dancers." Rambert's notated score and recollections of "Sacre" have become primary sources for the reconstruction team.
Like Hodson and Archer, Joffrey sees the new production as a means of repudiating the popular image of Nijinsky as an unsophisticated, crudely instinctive choreographer. Indeed, he marvels that a dancer who became a living legend in his early 20s for his unprecedented technical brilliance and extraordinary elevation would jettison the academic ballet vocabulary in favor of "vibrating and pulsating movement that was completely different from anything people were doing at the time."
Or since, in big classical companies. Rodriguez finds that when dancing "Sacre," she is calling upon her modern dance experience as much as her ballet background: "You have to retrain your body a new way (from ballet)," she explains. "It's a totally different look. I think of it along the lines of modern style, but I can always use the technique of ballet in terms of the stamina level."
Even the specific parts of the body that hurt after a long day of rehearsal are not the same as for classical roles, she says, and it is easy to believe all the stories about the proud Diaghilev dancers rebelling against the bent knees, lolling heads, hunched shoulders, clenched fists and infernal rhythms that Nijinsky demanded in his 120 rehearsals for the original 1913 production.
Subtitled "Pictures From Pagan Russia in Two Parts," "Le Sacre du Printemps" was described by the pioneering British ballet writer and publisher Cyril W. Beaumont as "a story of herd reaction under the tribal rites of prayer and sacrifice in worship of the earth and the sun."
French critic Jacques Riviere related the subject to Stravinsky's desire to portray the surge of spring, but warned that "Here is nothing but the harsh struggle of growth . . . the fearful regrouping of the cells. Spring seen from the inside, with its violence, its spasms and its fissions. We seem to be watching a drama through a microscope."
The opening performance at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees caused the greatest furor in dance history. Writer and artist Jean Cocteau thought the storm of protest inevitable: "All the elements of a scandal were present. The smart audience in tails and tulle, diamonds and ospreys, was interspersed with the suits and \o7 bandeaux \f7 of the aesthetic crowd. The latter would applaud novelty simply to show their contempt for the people in the boxes. . . . Innumerable shades of snobbery, supersnobbery and inverted snobbery were represented."
All hell broke loose soon after the curtain rose: shouting, whistling, laughter, boos and catcalls. When the women dancers took a pose with their hands against their cheeks, someone screamed "Is there a dentist in the house?" and others answered "Shut up!"
To artist Valentine Gross (whose sketches and pastels of the ballet provided another major resource for the Hodson/Archer reconstruction), "the theater seemed to be shaken by an earthquake. It seemed to shudder." There were fistfights and duels fought over the ballet. A countess, with her tiara askew, stood up and announced "I am 60 years old and this is the first time anyone has dared to make a fool of me!"
A lady slapped the face of a man who was hissing in an adjoining box, somebody called composer Maurice Ravel "a dirty Jew," Nijinsky's mother fainted, and only the final sequence (where a woman is sacrificed to the forces of nature by dancing herself to death) managed to silence the angry mob.