David Lloyd George becomes prime minister of Britain - HISTORY
Year
1916

David Lloyd George becomes prime minister of Britain

On the night of Thursday, May 29, 1913, the pioneering Russian ballet corps Ballet Russes performs Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), choreographed by the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees in Paris.

In founding the Ballet Russes in 1909, the flamboyant impresario Serge Diaghilev was searching for his own version of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or total art form), a concept introduced by the enormously influential German composer Richard Wagner in his book Oper und Drama (1850-51). Early in the second decade of a new century, Diaghilev saw ballet, and indeed all art, as a means of deliverance from the confines of morality and convention that had ruled Western society in the 19th century. This kind of avant-garde sensibility was widespread in Europe by 1913—particularly in Germany, the birthplace of the era’s most prominent philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, whose writings articulated both the sense of chaos and destruction and the call for a violent rebirth of modern society that Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nijinsky strove to portray in Le Sacre.

When the curtain went up in the newly constructed—and architecturally controversial—Theatre de Champs-Elysees on May 29, 1913, it seemed all of Paris society was there. There was great anticipation surrounding Diaghilev’s newest production; advance publicity for the ballet had called it real and true art, art that disregarded the traditional boundaries of space and time. Almost as soon as the curtain rose, the audience began to react strongly to the performance, starting with whistles and proceeding to hisses and howls as the dancers appeared. Originally titled The Victim, Stravinsky’s ballet portrayed a pagan celebration in which a virgin sacrifices herself to the god of spring. The music was dissonant and strange, while the choreography by Nijinsky marked a radical departure from classical ballet, with the dancers’ toes turned in and their limbs thrust at sharp angles instead of smooth, rounded curves.

As Carl Van Vechten, drama critic for the New York Sun later wrote, the unruly audience became as much a part of the performance as the dancers and musicians: Some forty of the protestants were forced out of the theater but that did not quell the disturbance. The lights in the auditorium were fully turned on but the noise continued and I remember Mlle. Piltz [the dancer portraying the sacrificial maiden] executing her strange dance of religious hysteria on a stage dimmed by the blazing light in the auditorium, seemingly to the accompaniment of the disjointed ravings of a mob of angry men and women. The subsequent coverage in the press of the ballet—which is now considered one of the great musical achievements of the 20th century—was resoundingly negative; the music was dismissed as mere noise and the dance as an ugly parody of traditional ballet.

In light of the horrifically destructive conflict that exploded in Europe barely one year later, the violent reaction to Le Sacre de Printemps came to seem like a logical and inescapable response to such an expression of nihilism and chaos. Against a background of growing nationalist fervor across the continent, French audiences were understandably anxious—about their own country’s declining influence in the face of Germany’s growing strength, about the seeming failure of traditional notions of morality and order and about what was to come. A year later, during the July Crisis, the French critic Maurice Dupont praised the sanity of the French reaction, calling Le Sacre a Dionysian orgy dreamed of by Nietzsche and called forth by his prophetic wish to be the beacon of a world hurtling towards death—a wish that would soon be fulfilled on the battlefields of World War I.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The First State

In Dover, Delaware, the U.S. Constitution is unanimously ratified by all 30 delegates to the Delaware Constitutional Convention, making Delaware the first state of the modern United States.Less than four months before, the Constitution was signed by 37 of the original 55 ...read more

Indonesia invades East Timor

Early in the morning, Indonesian forces launch a massive invasion of the former Portuguese half of the island of Timor, which lies near Australia in the Timor Sea.The Portuguese departed East Timor in August 1975, and Indonesian troops soon began infiltrating the border from ...read more

First execution by lethal injection

The first execution by lethal injection takes place at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. Charles Brooks, Jr., convicted of murdering an auto mechanic, received an intravenous injection of sodium pentathol, the barbiturate that is known as a “truth serum” when ...read more

Earthquake devastates Armenia

In the Soviet Union, an earthquake of a 6.9 magnitude on the Richter scale hits northwestern Armenia, affecting an area 50 miles in diameter. The initial earthquake was followed four minutes later by a powerful 5.8 magnitude aftershock. More than 20 towns and 342 villages were ...read more

Pearl Harbor bombed

At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious ...read more

Situation deteriorates in South Vietnam

The situation worsens in South Vietnam, as the Viet Cong attack and capture the district headquarters at An Lao and much of the surrounding valley 300 miles northeast of Saigon.South Vietnamese troops regained control only after reinforcements were airlifted into the area by U.S. ...read more

Willa Cather is born

On this day in 1873, Willa Cather is born in Winchester, Virginia. Cather was the first of seven children born to an old Virginia family dating back to colonial times. Her maternal grandfather served several terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. Her grandmother was a strong, ...read more

Earthquakes wreak havoc in Armenia

Two earthquakes hit Armenia on this day in 1988, killing 60,000 people and destroying nearly half a million buildings. The two tremors, only minutes apart, were measured at 6.9 and 5.8 in magnitude and were felt as far away as Georgia, Turkey and Iran.It was 11:41 a.m. when the ...read more

Commute of terror

Colin Ferguson opens fire on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train from New York City, killing 6 and injuring 19. Other train passengers stopped the perpetrator by tackling and holding him down. Ferguson later attributed the shooting spree to his deep-seated hatred of white ...read more

Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas

On this day in 1862, northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouriare secured for the Union when a force commanded by General James G. Blunt holds off a force of Confederates under General Thomas Hindman at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.Hindman assembled a force at Fort ...read more