3. Rituals of Abduction - Kate Mattingly / by Nathan Webster

Original Act 1 Set Design by Nicholas Roerich

Original Act 1 Set Design by Nicholas Roerich

The below post is the third in a series of 13 texts related to NOW-ID's inaugural Rite of Spring, loosely following the 13 episodes in Stravinsky's score. Rituals of Abduction is by Kate Mattingly, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. Get your tickets to the performance here.


The third section of Stravinsky’s score for The Rite of Spring, called the “Ritual of Abduction,” signals the violence that is the centerpiece of the production. In fact Stravinsky originally intended The Rite to be called The Great Sacrifice.

Abduction means forcibly taking someone away against their will, and in many versions of The Rite––by Vaslav Nijinsky, Maurice Bejart, Pina Bausch, and Anne Bogart & Bill T. Jones––the performance is characterized by violence and aggression.

Picking up on Liz’s insights into connections between violence and patriarchy, I want to question the ongoing need for a woman to die. It’s the crux of many versions (by Nijinsky and Bausch) as well as canonical ballets: La Sylphide, Giselle, Swan Lake, to name a few. If we go to these performances, and if they continue to be popular more than a century after their premieres, what does this say about the value of women in today’s society? And how might a re-envisioning of The Rite alter this trajectory?

Examining the history of Stravinsky’s Rite, it’s clear that the artist Nicholas Roerich played a crucial role in this interdisciplinary endeavor. John McCannon writes, “In describing to Diaghilev the libretto that he and Stravinsky were developing, Roerich spoke of ‘mystic terror’ and ‘celestial mystery’, declaring, ‘my object is to present a number of scenes of Earthly joy and Heavenly triumph as understood by the Slavs’.” Roerich’s designs for The Rite depict primeval landscapes that he believed to be a “birthplace for humanity.” According to their libretto, in order for spring to arrive and humanity to thrive, a Chosen Maiden must dance to death.

What happens to this philosophy of a-woman-must-die-for-a-community-to-survive, if we turn the “great sacrifice” into the earth itself? Using an ecofeminist framework (Thank you Liz!), we could draw on theories of Theresa May to better understand relationships between the oppression of women and the exploitations of natural resources. May ends her article entitled “Toward a Dangerous Ecocriticism in Theatre Studies,” with a list of 12 “Green Questions to ask a Play.”

What happens if we switched “play” for Now-ID’s Rite and ask, “How does this performance of The Rite engage or reflect the environmental issues of its time and place?”; “How does the performance represent and/or complicate the effects of technology on people, animals, plants, and the land?”; “How does the performance propagate or subvert the master narratives that sanction human exploitation of the land?” and “How does the spatiality of performance inform the reciprocity among spectator, performer, and environment? How does use of space inform notions of ecological ‘community’?”

Perhaps with an ecofeminist approach, this production could complicate and subvert the seemingly inextricable links between patriarchal domination and ecological survival.