Controversial, scandalous, dissonant: not your usual go-to adjectives for a ballet. And yet in many a conversation about Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” at least one of the three words regularly come up. When Stravinsky first staged the ballet on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the costumes, choreography, and story of pagan sacrifice didn’t sit well with audience members (to put it lightly). They booed, hissed, and yelled so loudly that the performers could barely hear each other. As Harvard University professor Thomas Kelly put it: “The pagans on-stage made pagans of the audience.”
Today, scholars, musicians, and fans of and Disney’s Fantasia regard the ballet as one of the most magnificent masterpieces of the 20th century—a truly one-of-a-kind piece that challenges even the most gifted musicians with its odd time signatures and lack of continuity. In spite of this challenge (or perhaps because of it), Duke University and the Lincoln Center commissioned jazz trio The Bad Plus to create their own version of the famous ballet. The trio, known for its rock-heavy repertoire and rearrangements of such pieces as Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” took the challenge and spent eight months picking apart the ballet piece by piece—all 28 three-to-four minute segments of it. (Remember, the ballet was written for an entire orchestra—The Bad Plus consists of a drummer, pianist, and bassist.)
As if learning the music wasn’t hard enough, the trio also had to find a way to incorporate their own sound; to take their vision and Stravinsky’s and meet in the middle, if you will. On March 26, 2011, the trio showed off the result of their hard work at Duke, receiving glowing reviews of their achievement. This weekend, The Bad Plus brings their “Spring” remix to the Loring Theater, promising a night of totally original, off-kilter music—perhaps with a splash of controversy and scandal thrown in there.
The Bad Plus’s The Rite of Spring
Friday, May 20–Saturday, May 21; 7 p.m.
Loring Theater, 1407 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.