Rite of Spring, Joffrey Ballet
(1913 costume design, Nicholas Roerich)
Paris, 29 May 1913
Everything was beautiful at the ballet. Romantic melodies by Chopin, graceful sylphs shimmered in white, Russian dreamboat Nijinsky danced in the moonlight. The first act at the brand new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was what everyone expected. But as the music of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) began the second part of the program, the audience twitched, twittered and turned hostile.
“One literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music,” said Gertrude Stein (who actually saw the second performance four days later.) Popular composer Puccini (also attending the second night) called the music cacophonous, “the work of a madman.” Suddenly everyone who was anyone in Paris wanted to see what kind of ballet had caused a riot in the theatre on its opening night.
“Until the age of five, I was classified as an autistic child.” This revelation shocked my public speaking class in 1971. I chose autism as the subject for an “informational speech” assignment because I was also taking a psychology course called Exceptional Children. I’d just read a chapter on the little-known condition and found it fascinating. But a good speech requires more than an interesting topic. It needs an ending that packs a punch. Because I was majoring in drama, not journalism, I didn’t think twice about using some creative license. My startling “revelation” was a boldfaced lie.
Two things I didn’t anticipate. An informational speech is followed by time for questions. My classmates had plenty, most concerning what I remembered from back then. I improvised like crazy about a soft-spoken woman, repetitive behavior, and other false memories. At the end, my professor commented on how remarkable it was that I was now an extroverted theater student. I hoped my intense blushing would not give me away as I returned to my seat. Apparently not. I got an A.
I’m from a generation when librarians raised a disapproving finger to their lips to shush even the quietest whispers. So it felt odd (but liberating) to sit with a group of some fifty people in the Amsterdam Public Library and be encouraged – by a teacher, no less – to raise our voices in a resounding chant. “Gender is like a banana! Gender is like a banana!” Continue reading