As an arts and education activist– a culturalist– I am always delving into how traditions and cultural symbols and expressions reflect our ideas and ideals, as well as inspire. This week many celebrate Passover and Easter, and recount the ancient stories of slavery to liberation, sacrifice and resurrection. Families and friends feast on foods and participate in rituals that evoke these tales, and seek relevance to our own struggles. We have the opportunity to celebrate the newness and beauty of the nature and culture of Spring.
Aside from religious rituals of Spring, I was thinking about other cultural expressions, and of course Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” sprung to mind. For those not familiar with the music, it hardly evokes images of Spring. The music is harsh and, although interesting, is almost the opposite of the way we like to think of Spring as crocuses, chirping birds and fluttering butterflies. Similarly, the ballet, originally choreographed by Nijinsky, was initially poorly received as the dances and dancers were contrary to audience notions of beauty and grace or the loveliness of Spring. The music and ballet (and also Matisse’s “Dance” that was painted around the same time as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”composition) recalled elements of paganism in an avant-garde approach. Their modernist works upended cultural notions and referenced paganism as a means to pushing cultural boundaries. If Spring was about transformation and (re)birth, the birth of modernism transformed cultural sensibilities (in frightening geo political ways as well). This modernism is over a century old.
We often think of Modern as new, but what is the new Rite of Spring? We still have much to transform. A couple of years ago, the world watched as uprisings across the Arab world gave rise to what was coined the Arab Spring. There was hope and possibility in the air that dictatorships and harsh rule and economic inequalities would be transformed , and that Democracy would ensue.
As of this writing, the Supreme Court is examining the legal implications of gay marriage. At this moment in our history, it seems as though public opinion is far ahead of the Court on gay marriage. In previous eras, the Court created the legal paths for civil rights, and cultural attitudes had to adjust to the legal reality. Now, we have a different situation: The Supreme Court is wrestling with the right to marry after the cultural shift toward marriage equality for gay couples. This is the Right of this Spring. Now we need new cultural arts compositions to reflect our new ideals and inspire the next generations.