Hidden Europe: The other side of Paris

First rites on the Right Bank

Those looking to depart from convention in Paris usually head for the Left Bank. No one goes to Avenue des Champs-Elysées, on the Right Bank, looking for revolution. But, cast back 100 years ago this week, and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was the venue for some radical departures from choreographic convention.

The theatre is actually some way from the grand thoroughfare that shares its name. It stands near the foot of Avenue Montaigne, which cuts south-west from Champs-Elysées towards the river. The Avenue Montaigne is not regular Hidden Europe terrain – so much so that I felt decidedly out of place as I walked there recently. This is Louis Vuitton territory, a place for the chic set that knows its Dior from its Bulgari.

The theatre opened in spring 1913. It is an extraordinary building, one that presciently anticipates what later came to be known as Art Deco – although it was not until a dozen years later that the Swiss architect Le Corbusier gave a name to the architectural genre. For many Parisians, the assertive symmetry and reinforced concrete of the exterior were an affront. But, however disquieted they might have been by the building's outside, the citizens of the French capital were even more incensed by what went on inside.

By 1913, Parisians had grown to love the saison russe. Each spring since 1909, the Ballets Russes had performed in the capital, stealing the hearts of its citizens. Critics applauded the primitive energy of Diaghilev's dancers. Here was a touch of the east on the Paris stage. Suddenly, there were Ballets Russes perfumes which added a new dimension to Paris scentscapes. Scheherazade-style pantaloons and even Cossack sabres became part of Parisian haute couture.

The 1913 season of the Ballets Russes was staged at the new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Nijinsky's Faune had raised a few eyebrows when it was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 29 May 1912. A year later to the day, Le Sacre du Printemps had its first performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Every aspect of The Rite of Spring was immensely provocative. Stravinsky's music, Roerich's costumes and set, but, above all, the on-stage antics of the lead dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky incensed the audience. Russia had breached the bounds of Parisian convention, and a riot erupted within the theatre.

As we approach the centenary of the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, it is good to remember that, even around the sedate boulevards of the 8th arrondissement, there is scope for revolution. The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is still going strong and will mark the centenary on 29 May with a performance of Le Sacre du Printemps that recalls Nijinsky's 1913 choreography in combination with a new staging by the choreographer Sasha Waltz.

More information: theatrechampselysees.fr

Hidden Europe is a print and online collection of writing that reflects the Continent's diverse cultures and landscapes. You can subscribe through hiddeneurope.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy