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The “Riot of 1913” comes to the Fredericton Playhouse

by on February 6, 2013

by Amani Wassef, Director of Education and Community Engagement

On February 28 The Fredericton Playhouse welcomes Quebec-based contemporary dance company Cas Public to our stage with their refreshing and energetic work Varations S.

Varations S revisits the world of the Ballets Russes one hundred years after the iconic company was founded. Cas Public Choreographer, Hélène Blackburn, has had a lifelong fascination with the Ballet Russes and became increasingly interested in The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) as she explored the company’s repertoire. “In this towering work she found themes – spring, the elect, sacrifice – conducive to the creation of a show for young audiences.”  –Varations S Activity Guide (Cas Public).

Blackburn invited musician and composer Martin Tétreault to create a score based on the Ballet Russes repertoire, including Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.  Tétreault freely drew from about 10 versions of this work resulting in “a compelling reconstruction [that] integrates digital loop samples, sonic collages and even sounds from altered vinyl records.” –Varations S Activity Guide. 

While the remix might not sound quite like the original composition by Stravinsky, its origins are deeply rooted in controversy.  The Rite of Spring was composed for the 1913 Paris season of the Ballets Russes under the direction of its founder and director Sergei Diaghilev.  In its day, the work was considered very avant-garde, and within minutes of its debut performance at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, audience members were hissing, booing and taking swings at each other.  The inharmonic sounds of the music, along with the unconventional jarring movements of the ballet, and Pagan Russian theme, divided the audience which resulted in a full-scale brawl beginning in the first half.  Police were called but were unsuccessful at restoring order.  Brawling continued during the second half and Stravinsky fled the theatre before the completion of the show.

The ballet continued its six-show run amidst controversy but without further interruption. While Stravinsky continued to produce work, he did not return to this style.  He did revise the score in 1947 but wrote primarily for the concert hall rather than ballet.

Historians have suggested that the “riot of 1913” was as much a manifestation of World War 1 as of the music or ballet, going as far as to suggest the brawl was pre-conceived and political in nature.  It is accepted that the music was challenging, the ballet outside the scope of fluidity and beauty that patrons expected, and that its avant-garde approach too challenging for the audience.  The riot triggered a discussion about art, music, and dance that continues today:  abrasive music can be beautiful;   sharp and unnatural dance can be significant.

The remix culture for classical music is less revolutionary and more acceptable within contemporary listeners.  So in the same way that Stravinsky borrowed and twisted the rules of classical music and ballet, Martin Tétreault has done for Varations S.  The dance steps that caused such disdain in 1913 have become staples in today’s choreography.  Stravinsky’s daring work ignited a great debate that pushed the boundaries of acceptability, and yet today can still amaze and thrill its audiences.

Tickets for Cas Public’s Variations S are available at the Fredericton Playhouse box office 1-866-884-5800, or online at


From → Shows

One Comment
  1. Susan Hoover permalink

    The Playhouse is very lucky to have this show!!!!!!!

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