"After coming up with the idea of the piece in 1910 from a fantasy vision of pagan ritual (his fleeting vision of a young girl dancing herself to death) while composing The Firebird, Stravinsky began forming sketches and ideas for [The Rite of Spring], enlisting the help of archaeologist and folklorist Nikolai Roerich... After going through revisions almost up until the very day of its first performance, it was premiered on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris and was conducted by Pierre Monteux. Stravinsky would later write that a better translation to English would have been 'The Coronation of Spring.'
The Ballets Russes staged the first performance. The intensely rhythmic score and primitive scenario—a setting of scenes from pagan Russia—shocked audiences more accustomed to the demure conventions of classical ballet. Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography was a radical departure from classical ballet. Different from the long and graceful lines of traditional ballet, arms and legs were sharply bent. The dancers danced more from their pelvis than their feet...
The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. At the start with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly due to the slight dischord in the background notes behind the bassoon's opening melody. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying. Fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously stormed out of the première... allegedly infuriated over the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet's opening bars.
Stravinsky ran backstage, where Diaghilev was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to try to calm the audience. Nijinsky stood on a chair, leaned out (far enough that Stravinsky had to grab his coat-tail), and shouted counts to the dancers, who were unable to hear the orchestra (this was challenging because Russian numbers are polysyllabic above ten, such as eighteen: vosemnadsat).
Although Nijinsky and Stravinsky were despondent, Diaghilev (a Russian art critic as well as the ballet's impresario) commented that the scandal was "just what I wanted". The music and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual and are also often noted as being the primary factors for the cause of the riot...
The ballet completed its run of seven performances amid controversy, but experienced no further disruption."
--article from wikipedia
I was inspired to post this anecdote after listening to Radiolab's recounting of it. It's very powerful when they tell it. You can listen to it here.
Hot Chip - Ready for the Floor
This one is old, but it popped up on shuffle the other day and I just kept repeating it. Matt put this on a mix CD he made for me when I was living in Bordeaux.
Fischerspooner - Just Let Go (Thin White Duke remix)