At the Theatre Des Champs-Elysées, Igor Stravinsky premieres his The Rite Of Spring.
Coco Chanel attends the premiere and is mesmerised…
But the revolutionary work is too modern, too radical: the enraged audience boos and jeers. A near riot ensues.
Stravinsky is inconsolable. Seven years later, now rich, respected and successful, Coco Canel meets Stravinsky again - a penniless refugee living in exile in Paris after the Russian Revolution. The attraction between them is immediate and electric. Coco offers Stravinsky the use of her villa in Garches so that he will be able to work, and he moves in straight away, with his children and consumptive wife.
And so a passionate, intense love affair between two creative giants begins...
The production of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky has had the support of Karl Lagerfeld and CHANEL who have generously made available their archives and collections. CHANEL has lent several original garments and accessories to be worn by Mademoiselle Anna Mouglalis in the role of Mademoiselle Chanel, and Karl Lagerfeld has specially created a 'timeless' suit and an embroidered evening dress for the scene recreating the legendary and scandalous 1913 performance of The Rite Of Spring. In order to recreate the world of Coco Chanel as faithfully as possible, CHANEL has also granted the film makers full access to its archives and to Coco Chanel's celebrated apartment at 31, rue Cambon, Paris.
READ A CONVERSATION WITH WRITER-DIRECTOR JAN KOUNEN
READ A CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR AND CO-SCREENWRITER CHRIS GREENHALGH
THE LIVES OF COCO CHANEL
Brilliant, eventful, strewn with reversals, the life of Gabrielle Chanel delineates an incredible destiny lived through an eventful century. "Reality is sometimes more surprising than fiction," is a quote much used by film producers. Gabrielle Chanel's life is a dream come true for a filmmaker's imagination.
For Gabrielle Chanel: "Legend honours celebrity." More than forty biographies have related her journey and her story. Hers is a life that reflects a 20th century marked by daring, loves, turmoil and style.
Born on August 19th, 1883, from a humble, provincial background, Gabrielle is quickly orphaned. Her education provided by nuns, she is taught basic sewing and is hired at the age of twenty as a hosiery assistant. She embroiders, she sews, and she gets bored, distracting herself at café concerts. Her graceful figure gets her noticed and when she takes the stage as a singer, the audience loves her and nicknames her "Coco". Etienne Balsan, a rich racehorse breeder, spots and quickly falls for her. Through him she discovers the equestrian world, which will become such a source of inspiration, as well as racetrack society, whose women's hats according to her resemble meat pies. Amongst Balsan's entourage, she meets Arthur "Boy" Capel, who will be the great love of her life. Capel encourages her and provides the necessary funds to open her first milliner's shop, on rue Cambon in Paris, in 1910. More shops quickly follow, in Deauville, then Biarritz and Cannes. Chanel's success is rapid, and she is soon able to repay Boy Capel's loan to the last centime.
The young Chanel is fashion designer like no other. When American magazines gain access to her innovative creations, it's a thunder clap and the reverberations are felt worldwide. Her affair with Boy Capel has helped her introduce a masculine energy to her ever-evolving designs, which will quickly be described as androgynous. She 'steals' his trousers, his pyjamas, his boaters and his jerseys. Her lovers will have a direct impact on her designs: from Grand Duke Dimitri she borrows the roubachka, a typical Russian smock, pelisses, furs and embroideries. From the staff of the Duke of Westminster's yacht she appropriates jerseys, golden buttons, white facings and tweed jackets.
In 1921 Chanel launches her first perfume, Nº5, which is based on May Rose and jasmine essences. She is also the first to use aldehydes. The launch marks a breakthrough in the perfume world unequalled before or since.
Marilyn Monroe, when asked what she wore in bed, replied laconically: "CHANEL Nº5, of course".
Coco launches a style language that is unique to her and structures the excellence of CHANEL. Reckless, but with an extra sense, the sense of style. Her 'little black dress' of 1926 is a stroke of genius.
"Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I said that black has everything. White also. They possess an absolute beauty. A perfect harmony."
In 1932, she presents to an awe-struck Paris an Haute Joaillerie collection made entirely from platinum and diamonds - her favourite stone - of which she said: "I choose the diamond because it represents the most value in the smallest volume."
Chanel associates with the luminaries of her times: she collaborates with Cocteau and Picasso for the theatre; she financially supports Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Raymond Radiguet and Pierre Reverdy. She is everywhere, in Venice with friends such as Misia Sert, and in Paris, of course, at the Ritz where she has taken up residence. She is a consummate businesswoman who leaves nothing to chance. Her judgements ring like aphorisms: "If you are born without wings, don't do anything to stop them growing" or "I don't like to hear about CHANEL fashion. CHANEL is a style. Fashion passes, style remains."
In 1939, she closes her couture house. Then, at the age of 71, she returns to the forefront with a memorable fashion show presented on February 5th, 1954. It is a second revolution: she establishes the tweed suit, the "2.55" bag of quilted leather, the camellia, the two-tone shoe…
Once again she is Empress of a world that had believed it could live without her. She launches "Pour Monsieur", and is awarded a Fashion Oscar in Dallas as "The most influential designer of the 20th century."
Her entire life, her loves and her style, are present in her work. She doesn't erect barriers, everything is connected: her fashion is deeply coloured by her life, her learning, her discoveries. The sports she practices are reflected in the simplicity of her clothes. The jewellery she receives as gifts are present in her designs, as are her travels, her encounters, the friendships she cultivates, her superstitions. She digs over everything, thus creating an enduring body of work that speaks deeply of her time.
"I created fashion for a quarter of a century. Why? Because I knew how to talk about my era," said Coco Chanel, who died on January 10th, 1971, a few days before her spring-summer haute couture show. The world bid farewell to the most influential woman of her century, but the great CHANEL book remains far from closed.
CHANEL' S N°5 A REVOLUTIONARY PERFUME
Grasse, South of France, 1921, the already celebrated Coco Chanel entrusts Ernest Beaux, (formerly official perfumer to the Tsars' Court) with the creation of her first perfume. Her wish: "A woman's fragrance that smells of woman."
Chanel dreams of a revolutionary fragrance in her own image: abstract, unique. And not only 'pretty'. A perfume that will favour the natural beauty of woman. And to achieve authenticity, Coco pursues the artificial.
"An artificial perfume, and I do mean "artificial", as a dress is artificial. Which is to say, fabricated."
When Ernest Beaux presents two series of samples numbered from 1 to 5 and from 20 to 24, she chooses Nº5. It will be the first fragrance to combine natural essences and aldehydes which are synthetic ingredients.
"What will you call it?"
"I launch my collection on May 5th, the fifth day of the fifth month of the year; leave it the number it has and this number 5 will bring luck."
For Chanel, what is important is inside. She herself designs the minimalist bottle that will contain the 80 ingredients: the simplest possible glass bottle and its black and white label. Its avant-garde status is such that it will be exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959, five years after Marilyn made her famous statement and elevated Coco's fragrance to starry heights.
Since Marilyn, other great actresses have lent their faces to Nº5: Candice Bergen, Ali MacGraw, Lauren Hutton, Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman and Audrey Tautou. Celebrated directors such as Ridley Scott, Gérard Corbiau, Luc Besson, Baz Luhrmann and Jean-Pierre Jeunet have hymned it, with Andy Warhol going so far as to feature it as one of his portraits of the incontestable icons of the 20th century.
Today, a bottle of Chanel Nº5 is sold somewhere in the world every 55 seconds.
"A woman without perfume is a woman with no future."
THE LIVES OF STRAVINSKY: THREE MEN FOR ONE DESTINY
Three successive paternal figures mark the early years of Igor Stravinsky. Born June 17th, 1882 in Oranienbaum while his parents are on holiday, Igor is brought up in Saint Petersburg. His father is an opera singer. Although according to his teachers and his father the young Stravinsky shows no signs of any particular musical predisposition, he wants to study music to satisfy his desire to be a composer. His father forces him to study law, but dies in 1902, leaving his son free to accomplish his dream.
Shortly after, Stravinsky meets Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the famous composer, who advises him to avoid the Conservatoire and suggests he becomes his tutor. It is during this decisive period that Stravinsky composes his first work, in 1907: "Symphony in C". Rimsky-Korsakov dies in 1908 and Stravinsky dedicates a funeral lament to him, the manuscript of which is lost during the Russian Revolution. In 1906, he marries his cousin Catherine Nossenko, his greatest source of encouragement. Theodore is born the following year, and then a daughter, Ludmilla. Igor pursues his composing - this is his Russian period.
The third man in Igor Stravinsky's extraordinary life is Sergeï Diaghilev, famous art critic and impresario, and creator of the Ballets Russes, who hears the orchestral fantasy "Fireworks" in 1909. Diaghilev asks Stravinsky to orchestrate some of his compositions for him. In Paris, the first season of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes is a triumph. Secluded in Switzerland Stravinsky has just fathered a third child, Soulima. He is in the midst of writing his opera "The Nightingale" when Diaghilev commissions his first ballet from him: "The Firebird". The piece marks the beginning of Stravinsky's relationship with western culture and makes him the darling of all Paris.
PARIS, THE BELLE ÉPOQUE and THE ANNÉES FOLLES
When Stravinsky arrives in Paris, the City of Lights is the world's cultural capital. Two World Fairs, the Eiffel Tower, the construction of the Metro, of 175 cinemas, of the Petit and the Grand Palais and two districts in artistic turmoil, Montmartre and Montparnasse. Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism have already transformed the capital.
Paris and Diaghilev's commissions for the Ballets Russes liberate Stravinsky from the artistic influence of his Russian master, Rimsky-Korsakov. The next commission, "Petruchka", signals a real rupture in his work until the culmination of his musical innovations with "The Rite of Spring", considered the pre-eminent symbol of the musical avant-garde of the early 20th century. The work remains a major influence for classical, contemporary and jazz musicians.
Following the scandalous premiere of "The Rite", typhoid fever strikes Stravinsky, who has to spend six weeks in a sanatorium. His fourth child is born: Maria Milena. His wife learns she has contracted tuberculosis and is institutionalized. Igor starts working on his opera again. His style having changed in the meantime, he adds a prologue, "The Song of the Nightingale", considered to be his "final farewell to The Rite". Diaghilev's activities are interrupted by the war. Between 1914 and 1917, Stravinsky composes "Les Noces" and "The Fox". In dire financial straits he conceives a travelling theatre with writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. "A Soldier's Tale" signals the beginning of his second, "neoclassical" period.
In 1920, settled in a Jazzy, Art Deco, Dada Paris, Stravinsky collaborates with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and George Balanchine. The famous piano-making firm Pleyel administers his contracts, pays him and provides him with a studio to work in. Then Diaghilev organizes a momentous encounter with an admirer who is herself universally celebrated: Coco Chanel. Stravinsky falls madly in love with her. She will finnce his work long after their passionate affair has run its course. Stravinsky becomes a French citizen in 1934. But in 1938, tragedy follows tragedy: his daughter Ludmilla succumbs to tuberculosis, then his wife the following year and finally his mother. World War II erupts and Stravinsky leaves for the U.S.A.
Lecturing at Harvard and with his friend, then wife, Vera de Bosset, Stravinsky settles in Hollywood, near the home of Arnold Schoenberg. An artist who draws inspiration from different cultures and languages, he is considered a major player of his era. In California, he meets the famous Europeans in exile: Otto Klemperer, Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, George Balanchine, Arthur Rubinstein, and the English writers who admire him: Dylan Thomas, Aldous Huxley - who introduces him to Christopher Isherwood - and W.H. Auden. Stravinsky advises Charlie Chaplin on the music Chaplin composes for his films. Walt Disney chooses "The Rite of Spring" for one of the great musical set pieces in his feature "Fantasia". In 1940 Stravinsky is arrested in Boston for his orchestration of the American national anthem.
"To continue in one direction is to go backwards." Igor Stravinsky
An inexhaustible experimenter, Stravinsky carries out a last drastic artistic turn, marking his third period - "serialism" - and positioning himself in the musical movement initiated by Schoenberg. In parallel he continues to give concerts, and conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1945 Igor Stravinsky becomes an American citizen. Influenced by the cinema and broadcast media, he composes his first opera for television, The Flood", broadcast on CBS in 1962.
"The modern audience prefers recognition to knowledge." Igor Stravinsky
President Kennedy invites Stravinsky to dinner; Stravinsky is decorated by Pope Paul VI after a concert at the Vatican; Stravinsky plays for the last time in 1967 where he conducts sitting down. In 1969 he settles in New York where he will die two years later. His body is flown to Venice and then transported by gondola to the island of San Michele. He is buried beside his friend Diaghilev, the man who propelled him from the hands of his Old Russian master into the conquest of the new world. Today, Stravinsky has his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, alongside those of the biggest American movie stars.
THE RITE OF SPRING: A REVOLUTIONARY WORK
In 1910 while working on "The Firebird" in Paris, Igor Stravinsky has a vision: "I imagined the spectacle of a pagan rite: the wise elders are seated in a circle and observing the death dance of a maiden they are sacrificing to propitiate the God of Spring". He tells his friend, the artist and expert on paganism Nicolas Roerich, who mentions it to Sergeï Diaghilev. Diaghilev commissions a ballet libretto from Vaslas Nijinsky, the choreographer and dancer, based on this idea. He also commissions an "enormous" orchestration, convinced that ballet orchestras will get larger and larger. "The Rite Of Spring" is composed in a small room of the pension de Clarens where Stravinsky has settled with his wife and children: "A closet with as its only furniture an upright piano with which I deafened everyone, a table and two chairs".
The libretto is ready a year later, the music in November 1912. Rehearsals begin at the end of that year in Berlin, then in Vienna, London and Monte Carlo. Stravinsky quickly dismisses the German pianist so he can play himself, twice as fast, pushing the dancers to the very limits of their abilities. The composer writes to his mother: "Diaghilev and Nijinsky are crazy about my new child, The Rite."
Nicolas Roerich is in charge of the sets and costumes. Valentine Cross-Hugo, the French artist and a friend of Les Six, draws sketches based on Nijinsky's indications; the latter elaborates the choreography with the help of his sister Bronislava. In her memoirs, she talks about her brother's work: "The men are primitive creatures, they look almost bestial. Their legs and feet face inwards, they clench their fists, their heads hang down, their shoulders sag, they walk awkwardly with buckled knees… all this demands great precision from the dancers… who feel too much is being asked of them." Nijinsky abandons the idea of traditional symmetrical choreographies and the academic "feet outward" dogma. He clashes with Diaghilev who accuses him of mistreating his dancers. In return, Nijinsky complains that the impresario lacks musical culture. The rehearsals begin again in April 1913.
May 28th,1913, one day before the premiere at the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris. The dress rehearsal goes extremely well in front of a prestigious and enthusiastic audience: Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, the intelligentsia of the times and the whole of the Parisian press. "Music for savages with all mod cons," says Debussy while Ravel claims "The Rite" as a work of genius.
But the next day it's total chaos: the music and the choreography, too audacious, come as a cataclysmic shock. Amongst the audience of season tickets holders and the bourgeoisie a confrontation erupts: a brawl between the supporters and the detractors explodes. More than a performance takes place that night: it is one of the biggest artistic scandals of the 20th century.
"I left the theatre at the beginning of the Prelude which was immediately received with laughter and mockery," says Stravinsky in "Chronicles of My Life". "I was appalled. These displays soon grew widespread while provoking reactions from the supporters; it quickly became a dreadful racket."
"The din turned into a brawl," relates Jean Cocteau. "The Countess of Pourtales was brandishing her fan, red-faced, shouting: In sixty years it's the first time anyone dares make fun of me!"
In the auditorium, pandemonium. Mocking cries of "A doctor! A dentist! Two dentists!" assail the virgins on stage, dancing with their heads in their hands. In the wings, panic reigns. Standing on a chair, Nijinsky shouts out the tempo to the dancers who can no longer hear the the orchestra, conducted by the imperturbable Pierre Monteux. After one last attempt - "Kindly allow the performance to finish!" Diaghilev orders the house lights turned on and off in an attempt to calm the audience. During Act II, the police are forced to intervene.
Valentine Cross-Hugo: "All that was written about the battle of "The Rite of Spring" is is nothing compared to what really took place. It is as if the theatre had been shaken by an earthquake. It seemed to sway with the turmoil. Howling, swearing, hooting, steady booing overtook the music, and then slapping, even punches."
The ballet will be performed six times only. But these six performances in 1913 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysées will mark the death of Old World ideas and the transition to modernity. It is only a year later, in April 1914, that "The Rite of Spring" will be properly celebrated for its tremendous audacity. Igor Stravinsky will be praised to the skies after playing a concert in Paris, his admirers pulling the back of his morning coat in the streets of Paris.
In 1971, Millicent Hodson, the choreographer, writes a thesis on the Ballets Russes and Kenneth Archer a study on Nicolas Roerich. Together they decide to re-create the "Rite of Spring revolution" as it happened in 1913 in Paris. They launch an investigation and meet all the survivors of that night. With the help of Marie Rambert, Nijinsky's assistant, they recreate the original Rite on September 30th, 1987 as performed by the Joffrey Ballet. At the time. Diaghilev had originally asked Marie Rambert to assist Nijinsky, and it is thanks to her "bar by bar" notes that the ballet can be reconstructed.
Since 1913, this historical work has been considered to be the paragon of the modern era and remains the most choreographed pieces of ballet music of all times: after Nijinsky, Maurice Béjart, Pina Bausch, Martha Graham and Angelin Preljocaj have all staged this musical monument. Much more than a score, "The Rite of Spring" remains a living arena for pioneering ideas and artistic liberty.
The priceless manuscript changes ownership many times over the years. In the thirties, it is held in a bank safety deposit box, but prior to the war Coco Chanel owns it and lends it to the Ballets Russes Exhibition in the Marsan Pavillion. No one knows how it ends up in Stravinsky's hands once again. The composer puts it up for sale in New York on December 2nd, 1970. The journey of this manuscript bears testimony to the powerful bond - artistic and amatory - that united Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky for the rest of their lives, defying time and distance until theior deaths, in the same year.
Robert Craft, the American conductor and close personal friend of Stravinsky, relates a moving anecdote about that which the French couturiere loved so passionately: "One evening Stravinsky pointed the windows of rue Cambon to me and says, furious: "That's where the manuscript of "The Rite" is imprisoned."
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