Igor Stravinsky: Dances of the Young Girls

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was a Russian Neoclassical composer, pianist, and conductor. He is arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. His style of composition is still noticeable in the work of film soundtrack composers. He first gained acclaim for three ballets commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). In last of these, Stravinsky developed a new system of bitonality and polyrhythms which gave him enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary.

Dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s costumes for The Rite of Spring

The premiere of the The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris started a riot; some accounts of the performance claim the police were called. The audience was shocked by Stravinsky’s unprecedented use of dissonance and rhythm as well as Vaslav Nijinsky’s unusual choreography of the dancers. The performance of the Introduction was uneventful, the riot really broke out according to Stravinsky, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”. Danses des Adolescentes  or Dances of the Young Girls is the first scene in The Rite of Spring in which Stravinsky employed his bewildering rhythms. The audience responded by whistling and stamping their feet, the noise was so great the performers could barely hear each other.

Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

Ludwig van Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

One would expect the music for a dance of young girls in Spring to be light-hearted in mood, perhaps something like this passage from Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony is what could be expected. ( At least this what Walt Disney had in mind for the Centaurettes in Fantasia)

Igor Stravinsky ~ The Rite of Spring ~ Dances of the Young Girls

Stravinsky shatters our expectations by instead having the girl’s dance begin with a loud pulse with unpredictable dissonant chord strikes, which ironically, later inspired John William’s theme for the attacking shark in the film Jaws! Erik Heine noted, “The accents in the shark’s music mirror the accents from the Dance of the Young Girls in Stravinsky’s ballet”. Stravinsky upset the meter most are accustomed to hear, a measure of four eighth notes — 1234, 1234, etc. instead, the accents (reinforced by of 8 French Horns!) make us hear 1234, 12345, 12, 123456, 123, 1234, 12345,123! melodic fragments from Russian folk songs are introduced which give the sense of a dance in an immense kaleidoscope.  Dances of the Young Girls can be heard here.

While it is true The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece of modern music in terms of form. Is it really modern in terms of content? Although Stravinsky gained reputation of being avant-garde, I’m certain he did not intend to cause offense, he said in an interview,”I knew the music (The Rite of Spring) so well and it was so dear to me that I couldn’t understand why people were protesting against it.” Gill Perry recognized that “Many artists whom we now label ‘modern’ were in fact opposed to the processes of modernization (by which I mean the forces of industrialization and urbanization in Western capitalist society).”

When Stravinsky was completing The Firebird in 1910, an image flashed in his mind:

“…there arose a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and observing the dance before death of a girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence. This became the subject of The Rite of Spring“.

Scott Affleck ~ Rite of Spring (sketch) 2013

Many remain blind to the trend in art between the late 19th Century and early 20th Century I refer to as Jugend. Many artists of the period felt the need to find “roots” away from the sophistication and materialism of the modern world. Very often rural peasants were chosen as a subject of great moral worth, others turned to youth. It seems that no one wants to notice this, for example Die Brücke paintings of young girls were central to the school but are not included in art history books. I make a point of the loss of sensitivity modernism has brought in my post ‘The Zeitgeist’ on Celestial Venus. The rites of passage have been done away with in modern society so Stravinsky, like many other artists, return to the initiation folklore of youth. Leonard Bernstein observed, “This is one very obvious sense in which Stravinsky’s music can be understood as Poetry of Earth; these pieces are deeply rooted in the earth of folklore, at times seeming to reach back even further than traditional folk music, reaching atavistically back to prehistory.”

Maiden Voyages: December 2015

A Growing Chorus: I have been pleased to see new authors come forward with new ideas.  Despite whatever first impressions a visitor might have, this site is in fact about the portrayal of little girls in the arts and media.  That is a very broad mandate and it should be understood that we try not to favor one particular art form over another nor are we exclusively about child nudity.  I want to thank Dimitri, Moko and Journey Darkmoon for their recent contributions.  Tomorrow, a post on a young Lolicon artist is being published.  I like the idea of encouraging new talent.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but I don’t want it said that Pigtails in Paint did not give an artist or writer his or her chance.

See Alice for Yourself: The British Library has informed us that in addition to owning the original manuscript to Alice’s Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll since 1948, it is now in digitized form and can be viewed online by members of the public in its entirety. This was the precursor to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland mentioned in the post ‘Alice: A Personal View’.

Appeal Accepted: I have been informed that Graham Ovenden’s appeal to have his material reevaluated has been accepted by the British courts.  There is no date set, but professional legal counsel will be at Ovenden’s disposal to assist this time.  The Metropolitan Police has still not returned the artwork and materials ordered by Judge Roscoe.

Relearning Aesthetics: One of our contributors, Susan Adler, has recently been concerned about the lack of education regarding the classic symbolic function of youth in artistic imagery.  She wants to reintroduce people to this uplifting pre-modern aesthetic and make an argument for its continued relevance in current and future art forms.  You can take of a look at her early efforts here.

Alphonse Mucha Page: We were contacted by Artsy about a new artist page dedicated to Alphonse Mucha.  It provides visitors with Mucha’s biography, over 25 of his works, exclusive articles and up-to-date Mucha exhibition listings. It also includes the requisite related artist and category tags and links to other contemporary artists.  Artsy’s stated mission is to make the world’s art accessible online.  You can view Pigtails’ post on Mucha here.

Stigma: When we published a post on Scott Affleck, he was making a go at establishing his own gallery in the U.S.  Despite a skilled presentation of the young girl as a mythic symbol, buyers mostly wanted paintings featuring mundane themes—not much of a challenge for a serious artist.  In response, Affleck is attempting to reach out to a more sophisticated European audience.  To add insult to injury, a recent article in the March-April 2015 issue of Radius Magazine discusses some of his award-winning art.  However, even though the article mentions the significance of his painting Progression, they did not include a picture.  It seems art magazines are reluctant to present images of the child nude, even if it is relevant to the subject at hand and is legitimate art.

Empowerment and Damage Control: It is interesting that from time to time a company’s product should receive some flak from concerned citizens.  Often it is about pollution or treatment of workers, but sometimes it is about the image of the product itself.  This is certainly the case with Barbie.  Mattel has recently launched an advertising campaign to make Barbie an expression of empowerment for girls.  A video which appears on YouTube, has the requisite charm and plays at the empowerment of little girls, but not too much as to threaten the adults.

A Quick Anatomy Lesson Revisited: I was pleased to get some artist details on an unidentified sculpture of a girl holding two dachshunds from one of our readers.  For those who are interested, the revised post can be seen here.

Alienation: Scott Affleck

One of our readers, Kris, who lives in the Philadelphia area recently informed me of an interesting artist who just opened a gallery in Lambertville, a small town in central New Jersey. She sent me a sample of his work which I felt was well done, but I did not give it too much thought. As I learned more about his work, I felt I had better take a more serious look. Scott Affleck (born 1972) specializes in figural painting and convincingly integrates the female figure into his scenes. His pieces are not mere pretty cliches but are strong expressions of social commentary.

Scott Affleck - Gentle Voice (2014)

Scott Affleck – Gentle Voice (2014)

The first image I was shown was actually an unfinished work titled Babel. This is a reference to the Biblical story and a boy is shown focusing on his sand castle (the tower). Apart from offering a lesson about hubris–the tower also standing in as a phallic symbol—the girl is holding her arms out, signifying vastness and futility. The artist states that the girl’s pose is intentionally Christ-like, heightening the contrast between the material and spiritual endeavors of the two children. Joseph Campbell used to say that if a work of art really speaks to you, no explanation is necessary but if an artist wants to be insulting, he will tell you what it means. However, given this age of literary and symbolic ignorance, I think it pragmatic and prudent for Affleck to describe his intention whenever a visitor asks for it.

Scott Affleck - Babel (in progress) (2014)

Scott Affleck – Babel (in progress) (2014)

Scott Affleck - Babel (completed) (2015)

Scott Affleck – Babel (completed) (2015)

Affleck discovered his passion for art while attending Hunterdon Central High School, where he participated in an arts program for the gifted. He later studied under the guidance of Valeriy Belenikin and received an Associate’s Degree in Fine Arts from Bucks County Community College. His influences include Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Puvis de Chavannes, Ferdinand Hodler, George Tooker, Ken Kiff and Jock Sturges.

Even his choice of venue for the gallery was fortuitous as it is located in a small town just across from where an artist colony existed in the early 20th century. Participants included Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber and Roy Nuse—the last artist being well-known for his paintings of skinny dippers. The Grand Opening took place on November 8th and the artist sold two paintings that day—one of a cow and another of a tractor. He found that strange since he puts so much heart and soul into his figural paintings.

Many of his works are inspired by literature as in his interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato described a group of prisoners who lived chained in an underground cave all their lives. The prisoners spent their time watching a puppet show projected as shadows on the wall, which they mistook for reality. In Postmodern symbolism, dolls are used in place of puppets to reflect cynicism and the recognition of hypocrisy, as though objective values did not exist. In Affleck’s painting, an adolescent girl of about twelve enters the cave to free the prisoners—despite admonitions that she would be killed. Over time, the artist began to appreciate the significance of that age—when a girl reaches a level of consciousness that questions the hypocrisy of the world while still holding on to her idealism. Such sentiments tend to be mocked in contemporary art and Affleck believes it is an inevitable symptom of the greater level of alienation experienced during the transition from childhood to adulthood in the modern industrialized world. The girl stands in opposition to the values of this age and her nudity motivates self-honesty—casting off the empty honors of this world.

Scott Affleck - The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Scott Affleck – The Allegory of the Cave (2014)

Affleck believes many of his figural paintings are a therapeutic response to today’s pervasive conditions of alienation. Postmodern theory denies this state, so the mood of his work stands apart from those of his peers. It was not his intent to be a contrarian, only to produce art that came naturally to him. Fascinated and influenced by the Symbolist movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, he goes beyond the theme of youth as a metaphor for innocence but uses it to represent integrity instead. Perhaps Affleck’s clearest example is Resignation Is Liberation, inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. As a kind of homage to Sandro Botticelli and George Tooker, he painted it on wood.

Scott Affleck - Resignation is Liberation (2014)

Scott Affleck – Resignation is Liberation (2014)

He wasn’t sure if his ideas had any kind of validity until he found this poem written by a 13 or 14-year-old girl. It seemed to confirm his view.

You will never have a home again
You’ll forget the bonds of family and family will become just family
Smiles will never bloom from your heart again, but be fake and you will speak fake words to fake people from your fake soul
What you do today you will do tomorrow and what you do tomorrow you will do for the rest of your life
From now on pressure, stress, pain and the past can never be forgotten
You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories
Your mind and thoughts rule your body that will hold all things inside it; bottled up, now impossible to be released
You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy
Time, joy and freedom will hardly come your way and never last as you well know
Others’ lives and the dreams of things that you can never have or be part of, will keep you alive
You will become like the rest of the world–a divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate, pretending it doesn’t exist
There is only one way to escape society and the world you help build, but that is impossible, for no one can ever become a baby again
Instead you spend the rest of life trying to find the meaning of life and confused in its maze.
-Fiona Miller, c1987

He recently completed and posted his latest work; he got the idea of painting a trenchcoat on a woman encased in steel. Steel is a particularly potent symbol as it was one of the first materials to be mass-produced in the Industrial Revolution and effectively communicates a visceral reaction to a cold and impersonal age.

Scott Affleck - Progression (2014)

Scott Affleck – Progression (2014)

Official Gallery website
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