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European History as Told Through Diaghilevs Rite of Spring Essay

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Many often associate the 19th Century with old-fashioned ideas and customs, whereas the 20th Century is seen as the ‘modern era’. So where in between these two extremes can historians label a turning point as the end of one era, and the start of another? Modris Eksteins offers his view in Rites of Spring, where he uses the Russian ballet of the same name as a metaphor for the changing society during the World War I era. Eksteins views Germany as being the most modern nation in Europe, despite the outcome of the war, and sees its characteristics in the ballet, with Serge Diaghilev as the ringmaster behind it all. Diaghilev brings the ideas and talent of the blossoming Russia to Paris in 1913 with the premiere of Le Sacre du printempes. Even though many thought of Paris as the cultural center of Europe, Germany was the source of the majority of new ideas and ways of thinking. The newly unified Germany is trying desperately to contest its modern ideas against the centuries of tradition that Britain and France are trying to hang on to. World War I was not significant merely for the massive level of violence on a scale as never seen before, but for the war on culture raging in the background.
On May 29, 1913 when Diaghilev’s masterpiece debuted at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, the response of the audience was overwhelming in their shock at the erotic and unconventional nature of the dance. What made this performance different then what anyone in Western Europe had ever seen before was its jarring and sexual nature. Rather than the music and choreography be one, flowing, coherent unit, it was instead rather choppy and dissonant which most likely caught the naive audience off guard. The nature of this ballet is described many times t...


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...of militarism on so many levels. The radical changes in culture across the continent during this time period is what historians define as a turning point into the modern era. The old ways died out quickly as the modern ideas of Germany swept over Europe. This spread of these ideas was expedited by the new performances of Russian ballet in the western countries as shown through Diaghilev’s Rite of Spring. The masses of Europe had gone through a violent time of change and by the end of the war, they found themselves in the first years of the modern age.



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"HISTORY ESSAY: ‘Caught Between Two Worlds’ – A Review Essay on Modris Eksteins’ ‘Rites of Spring’ « Aproposofwetsnow’s Weblog." Aproposofwetsnow’s Weblog. Web. 29 Apr. 2011. .


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