The Body as Archive: 100 Years Le Sacre

22-25 May 2013, Concert Hall Bruges


Upon its premiere by the Ballets Russes, on 29 May 1913 at the Paris Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Le Sacre du Printemps immediately acquired the status of 'sacred scandal'. Though undoubtedly part of it, the pagan subject matter about a young maiden chosen as a sacrifice to the God of Spring does not account for the entire controversy. The score, choreography, costumes and set design all radically challenged the aesthetic norms of the age. A correspondent for the Musical Times reported that the music 'baffles verbal description. To say that much of it is hideous as sound is a mild description'. Nijinsky, who had created his choreography in response to the impelling rhythm and earthiness of Stravinsky's score, revolutionised the ballet idiom with his choice for in-turned feet, slightly bent knees and angular assymmetric gestures. This 'primitive' posture redefined the body that had been carefully stretched and disciplined by the romantic ballet tradition.

In the hundred years since its premiere, the piece has acquired near-mythic proportions and it has become the subject of numerous reconstructions and creative re-interpretations. These are often radically different from Nijinsky's original production. German choreographer Raimund Hoghe's or Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra's The Rite of Spring productions (both 2004), for instance, take the piece as occasion to focus on social notions of gender, age and identity. Contemporary adaptations of historic dance material such as these thus become sites of resistance against normative structures of ageing, corporeal discipline and control.

This intensive course focuses on how 'the body as archive' (of dance movements, but also of habits) engages with the canonical repertoire of Le Sacre. In recent dance and performance literature, the body is considered an archive that touches upon the ephemeral. As dance scholar Lepecki notes, 'The body may have always been nothing other than an archive'; it stores dance techniques, choreographic phrases, movements, gestures, habits, tics and fragments of unrelated repertoire to reactivate at a later time (Stalpaert 2011). This conception is based on insights from embodied cognition studies and on the 'embodied mind thesis' (Lakoff and Johnson), which states that cognitive processes are firmly rooted in the body's interaction with the world. The fragile status of the body-as-archive seems to inform a lot of today's performing arts. The enormous rise in the number of re-stagings of important dance pieces by leading choreographers and the growing attention to dance repertoire suggest an obsession with, or at least a larger than average interest in the past and corporeal 'sites of memory' (Taylor).



  • Damasio, A. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens. Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. Vintage.
  • Lepecki, A. “The Body as Archive. Will to Re-Enact and the Afterlives of Dances”. The Dance Research Journal 42(2010)2: 28-48.
  • Taylor, D. The Archive and the Repertoire. Duke University Press, 2003.
  • Schneider, R. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment, Routledge 2011.
  • Stalpaert, C. “Re-enacting Modernity. Fabian Barba’s A Mary Wigman Dance Evening (2009). Dance Research Journal. 43(2011)1: 90-95.


The two-part program matches research in dance studies (Ramsay Burt) to musicological research (Martine Huvenne and Rokus de Groot). The two workshops aim at maximum interaction between the lecturers and the participants. 

22-23 May: Prof. Ramsay Burt

This seminar module will examine Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, focusing in particular on two aspects of it: its modernist choreography, and the social and political meanings arising from its central, climactic event, sacrifice. During the seminar we will examine reviews of performances in Paris and London in 1913, together with selected, key reminiscences about the ballet. It will consider the use made of this material by Millicent Hodson in her well known reconstruction of the ballet as documented in her 1996 book. It will also discuss some recent perspectives on early modernism (Butler 1994, Crary 2001), together with discussions of ritual and sacrifice by Douglas 1966 and Agamben 2007). There will also be opportunities to discuss some of these ideas in relation to the recent dance work of Xavier le Roy and other performances that are programmed during the accompanying festival.

22 May:

  • Le Sacre du printemps in London 1913 and the English Suffragettes.
  • Discussion with Xavier Le Roy
  • Discussion of reviews of performances of Sacre in London and Paris in 1913 together with Crawford Flitch on ‘natural’ dancing. 

23 May:

  • Discussion of recent works made using the music of Sacre (including Le Roy, Hoghe, Bel) in relation to Agamben’s essay.
  • Discussion of Millicent Hodson's reconstruction of Sacre and her reconstruction score.


24-25 May: Workshop Dr. Martine Huvenne & Prof. Rokus de Groot

Stravinsky, it could be said, created Le Sacre not only auditively, but also audio-visually. The composer challenges his audience to listen in an empathic and embodied way. This has occasioned new compositorial constructions that can be linked to folklore, but can also be approached from a contemporary perspective. Stravinsky invites the choreographer to base his creation in a thinking in movement instead of in a meticulous loyalty to the score.

In a workshop of a day and a half, prof. Rokus de Groot and dr. Martine Huvenne will address the singularity of this exceptional composition. The embodied listening as proposed by Stravinsky is linked to an insight in the actual composition itself. This becomes the foundation for an interpretation of the choreography not only from a historical context, but also from the contemporary context of an audio-visual embodied perception.

Reading Material


  • Christel Stalpaert, "Staging Age and Aging in The Rite of Spring: Reconstruction or Critical Intervention?" Aging, Performance and Stardom: Doing Age on the Stage of Consumerist Culture. Ed. Aagje Swinnen & John A. Stotesbury. Berlin: LitVerlag, 2012. 53-74. Aging Studies in Europe 2.
  • Noémie Solomon, "Conducting Movement: Xavier Le Roy and the Amplification of Le Sacre du Printemps." Dance Research Journal 43.1 (Summer 2011): 65-80. 

Ramsay Burt

  • 'An Englishman' (1913) 'M. Nijinski on beauty' The Daily Mail, 19th July. n.p.
  • Agamben, Giorgio. (2007) ‘In praise of profanation’ from Profanations. New York: Zone Books. pp. 73-92.
  • Anon (1913a) 'The fusion of music and dancing. 'Le Sacred du printemps'. The Times, 26th July. n.p.
  • Anon. (1913b) 'Russian Ballet: Le Sacre du printemps' The Daily Telegraph 12th July. n.p.
  • Crawford Flitch, J. E., Modern Dancing and Dancers, (London, Grant Richards, 1912).
  • Hodson, Millicent. (1996) Nijinsky’s crime against grace: Reconstruction score of te original choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps. Stuyvesant, N.Y: Pendragon Press.
  • Inkster, Leonard,  ‘The Russian ballet, II’, New Statesman (19 July 1913), 469-70.
  • Inkster, Leonard,  ‘The Russian ballet: a postscript’, New Statesman (26 July 1913), 501.
  • Inkster, Leonard, ‘The Russian ballet, I’, New Statesman (5 July 1913), 406-8.
  • Julien, Adolphe. (1913) 'Revue musicale', Journal des Débats, 8th June, p.1-2.

Rokus de Groot/Martine Huvenne

  • Millicent Hodson, Nijinsky’s crime against grace: Reconstruction score of the original choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps. Stuyvesant, N.Y: Pendragon Press, 1996. (Selections)
  • Gretchen G. Horlacher, Building Blocks. Repetition and Continuity in the Music of Stravinsky. (Oxford UP 2011).
  • Martine Huvenne, "Sound in film as an inner movement. Towards embodied listening strategies." Helena De Preester, ed. Moving imagination, explorations of gesture and inner movement in the arts. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2013. 133-148. 
  • Stephanie Jordan, Stravinsky Dance: re-visions across a century (Hampshire Dance books 2007).
  • R. Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions (Oxford 1996) (Chapter: 'The Great Fusion').


Ramsay Burt is Professor of Dance History at De Montfort University, UK. His publications include The Male Dancer (1995, revised 2007), Alien Bodies (1997), Judson Dance Theater(2006), and, with Valerie Briginshaw, Writing Dancing Together (2009). In 1999 he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Performance Studies, New York University, and he is a visiting teacher at PARTS in Brussels. With Susan Foster, he is founder editor of Discourses in Dance.

Rokus De Groot, musicologist and composer, conducts research on music of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in the field of aesthetics and techniques of composition, and in the field of the interaction between different cultural traditions, particularly in the perspective of present-day (re)conceptualisations of past and present religious and spiritual traditions in relation to music. He also has published on Edward Said and polyphony/counterpount, in the musical sense, as a metaphor and as an intellectual mode. He obtained his MA in musicology with honours at the University of Amsterdam (Frank Ll. Harrison, Ton de Leeuw) and his PhD at the University of Utrecht (Paul Op de Coul, Jos Kunst). He holds the chair of musicology at the University of Amsterdam, after occupying a personal chair 'Music in the Netherlands since 1600', at the University of Utrecht (1994-2000). 

Martine Huvenne teaches music and sound in the film and animation programmes at University College Ghent's School of Arts – KASK and at Sint-Lukas Brussels. She read musicology at Ghent University and studies Laban Movement Analysis with Rob Stuyf. In September 2012 she gained her PhD from the University of Amsterdam with a phenomenologically inspired dissertation on the experience of sound in film.

Partners & Funding

This intensive course is organised by Prof Dr Christel Stalpaert (S:PAM | Studies in Performing Arts & Media, Ghent University), Dr Martine Huvenne (HoGent School of Arts), Prof Dr Rudi Laermans (Centre for Sociological Research, KU Leuven), Dr Frederik Le Roy (Department of Literature, University of Antwerp) and Drs Timmy De Laet (Department of Literature, University of Antwerp) in partnership with P.A.R.T.S., A-PASS and Concert Hall Bruges.


Supported by the Flemish Government