Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot
Harcourt Children's Books, 2013. 32 pages.
This picture book nonfiction book is extraordinary. It's a picture book; the language is simple enough for young elementary school students to fully understand. The pictures exquisitely evoke the music and dance of the ballet The Rite of Spring.
I've seen a performance of The Rite of Spring years ago in Los Angeles, but I wasn't prepared for how completely this book brought that performance -- which I hadn't thought about in years -- to the forefront of my mind.
I hadn't remembered that the first time the ballet was performed, it ignited a riot in Paris. That event is the climax of the book, but it gets there in such a delightful way.
First, the book talks about the music and dance that Stravinsky and Nijinsky created by themselves.
Then Stravinsky met Nijinsky
and his music began to change.
His piano pirouetted a puppet,
his tuba leaped a loping bear,
and his trumpet tah-tahed
a twirling ballerina.
And when Nijinsky met Stravinsky,
his dance began to change.
His torso trumpeted a melody,
his arms and legs sang from strings,
and his feet began
to pom-di-di-pom like timpani.
Stravinsky inspired Nijinsky.
Nijinsky inspired Stravinsky.
Together they decided to dream of something different and new.
The book goes on to talk about the creation of The Rite of Spring and the reactions of the musicians and dancers, and, eventually, the crowd in Paris.
I can't stress enough how wonderful the illustrations are. They aren't a literal, photographic description of the times. They use styles of the art of the times to symbolically represent what's going on, while still showing concrete things like dancers in Paris. I love the faces of the people in the music hall and in the streets of Paris. Some are smiling beatifically. Others have their hands over their ears with their faces puckered in disgust.
I also love the picture of Stravinsky and Nijinsky in tuxedo with tails dancing together surrounded by a ring of music with costumed dancers and instruments and music with unusual time signatures. That goes to show I can't describe it nearly as effectively as one glance at the picture will give you. Across the page, there's an exuberantly dancing cat and dog.
This is a colorful and exuberant book that tells a good story about art and a true moment in history and the way two friends working together helped both attain greatness.