The Rite of Spring Dance Party invites the audience to dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for the first time in history. 

Article from WQXR.

Note from Music Director James Blachly on Facebook about the 3/18/17 Dock 5 performance (link here):

Dear Friends,

On March 18th, the Experiential Orchestra performed our fourth Rite of Spring Dance Party, presented as the launch of Halcyon Stage. All of these events – in New York, Boston, and now Washington DC – have been unique, with a different atmosphere, energy, and audience response. We tried something different for this performance, and I’m happy with the result and with what we learned.

When I first conceived of a Stravinsky dance party, I was unsure if the idea would work at all – perhaps the rhythms and complex music would prove to be too difficult for free-style dancing or audience inhibitions would be too high. But the idea proved so intriguing that we moved ahead. Over the past two years, our dance parties have invited a different kind of listening, one that encourages creativity, wild abandon, and a physical response to the music through dancing, lying down, or sitting up close to the orchestra. The inaugural event exceeded all of our expectations – there was collective stomping, crowdsurfing, and a spontaneous ‘sacrifice’ of a young woman, carried out by some who knew the narrative and some who did not. The reactions were intense, authentic, and surprising to all of us.

We were excited to bring this event to DC, and through a great partnership with Artistic Director Septime Webre and Halcyon Stage, we envisioned a different kind of atmosphere with more of a club feel at Dock 5 – evocative lighting, DJ sets before and after the solo and orchestral performances, lounge furniture, and abundant bars. We knew it was an experiment and thus a risk; the audience was larger than in the past, with a sold-out crowd of more than five hundred, and performing in a wide-open warehouse was a new kind venue for us.

I was delighted when I heard that Anne Midgette of the Washington Post had taken an interest in the event and was coming to review it. I read her published review and later learned of the active discussion on her Facebook page (see “Rite Rave, wrong venue, (But very decent performance. And some people new to the piece were evidently deeply moved, which is good”)).

While she complimented the orchestra’s playing itself, it was clear that she was not convinced about the format, venue and presentation, and I am certainly going to take into consideration some of her points and reactions when we do this again. Indeed, the acoustics were a challenge, and there were times when it seemed that it was becoming difficult for the audience to hear the music. I wanted to invite the audience to enjoy the stimulating environment while also giving everyone the opportunity to hear and appreciate the passionate and evocative playing of the orchestra.

My favorite part of Saturday night’s Rite of Spring Dance Party at Dock 5 were the two encores at the end. By then, we had solved the acoustical issues, and with the raw power of the orchestra thus unleashed, I could feel the room change. Some danced while others stood next to or behind the orchestra. For the second encore, we invited the audience directly into the orchestra, and it was a special moment as we performed three of the quietest minutes in the orchestral repertoire with every player surrounded by rapt (and sweaty) audience members. Then the DJ took over and we danced for a few more hours.

The mission of the Experiential Orchestra is to make orchestral music both personally resonant and viscerally powerful to audience members in new – and old – ways, and the Rite of Spring Dance Party is only the most high-energy example of what we do. Other ways we seek to have music be a full-body experience have included our intimate Orchestral Loft Parties in 2010, circus choreography performed with live orchestra at the Muse Circus, Listening Events, such as the sold-out concert at Lincoln Center last fall, and Double Reed Madness this January, when we surrounded the audience with 36 oboes and bassoons (and Zurlas and Shawms).

This is an amazing time for classical music and orchestral music globally. We are a part of a worldwide movement of orchestras and organizations that are actively innovating in their ways of presenting music. Anne Midgette mentioned several of them in her review, and there are a plural noun of other organizations to add, including Groupmuse, who was our partner for the first two Rite of Spring Dance Parties (the first ROSDP was also the first Massivemuse), Classical Revolution, Mercury Soul, Brendan Walsh with Classical Music Rave in Amsterdam, Etienne Abelin with yNight in Zurich, Gabriel Prokofiev with Nonclassical Nights, Ensemble Resonanz Hamburg, Music:Eyes, with whom we have plans to collaborate next season, Loft Opera, and many, many more. Across the country, orchestras are incorporating DJs and bringing classical music into clubs and unusual venues, and there are ensembles of every size performing in living rooms and in bars and in museums and in art galleries. The field of classically-trained musicians is so incredibly talented these days, and a crucial question as we look to the future has become how to invite audiences most effectively into this rich and ever-expanding world of classical music. Each group has a different approach, and we are proud to be part of that mosaic of evolving ideas.

As an orchestral conductor and music director, I believe in the power and sublime beauty of symphonic music performed in our great concert halls. As someone deeply invested in the future of classical music, I am also committed to bold experiments and performances in venues that welcome and engage diverse audiences. The Experiential Orchestra is willing to take risks and try new things in order to bring people closer to the music. We hope you will join us.

James Blachly

Music Director | Experiential Orchestra

Rite of Spring Dance Party Manifesto

Whereas: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is one of the most revolutionary pieces of music ever written, causing a riot at its premiere on May 29, 1913

And whereas it was composed for (wild, revolutionary) dance, and intended in all ways to shake the audience out of their bones

And whereas it was considered impossible to play at its premiere, but is now performed widely across the world, including in conservatories and even by some youth orchestras

And that thus through frequent performances and recordings, an aesthetic of performance practice that values perfectionism of and because of the ever-growing technical skill of performers around the world, the shock of this work has been dulled 

Therefore: We are bringing this piece back to movement, dance, encouraging, allowing, enabling, facilitating, demanding crazy emotional responses & strong visceral reactions

We are letting the audience members be their own choreographers and dancers, respond to the music however they feel it move them, because the Rite of Spring is too powerful a piece to take sitting down

We believe this piece of music should transform you in some palpable way

And because the Rite is as rich harmonically as it is rhythmically, as sophisticated as anything ever written, and as primal as anything ever experienced,

We believe that when you let the music flow through your body, and let your body react and respond to these rhythms and sounds and melodies and guttural exhortations and orgasmic ecstasy and painful rebirth and terrifying stillness, you hear the music differently because you feel the music differently.

Moreover: We believe that music should not be exclusively or primarily a synaptic activity

We believe that music is something that should vibrate our aching organs, hit us in the gut, something that can bring feelings up from the roots of our ancestors and into our limbs and backs and bellies

We celebrate that everyone hears music differently every time they listen, and that live orchestral music is the most powerful collective emotional experience humans can have with sound

And so: we are creating concerts that enable the audience to experience music, not just hear it; feel it, not only analyze it. We don’t care how you react to this music, but the Rite of Spring should have a powerful effect on everyone who hears it.

What audience members are saying:

"This was such an extraordinary experience, to dance so close to a live orchestra, to feel each instrument through your skin, hear so differently. We felt invisible, zombie-like yet so alive. It’s such a brilliant thing, I wish EXO many more wild audiences."

"This is the future of classical music!"

"The way orchestral music should be."

“When was the last time you heard an audience of Millennials treat and orchestra and the conductor like rock stars?"

"James Blachly's Rite of Spring Dance Party was a truly incredible and unique experience. I have never felt more viscerally connected with the gritty, earthy side of music. We dancers (aka most of the audience) got to flip our inner experience of the music onto the outside, feeling vulnerable, letting down our guards, and inviting each other in. Aural experience was blended with body experience which was blended with visual experience - totally immersive. "

"I’ve never seen the art form brought in the modern age like this. "

"I don’t think you’ve realized yet that this has never happened before-it’s never been this great."

What orchestra members are saying:

Article from Oboist Nick Tisherman

"I've never heard applause like that at an orchestral concert. It felt like everybody was really in this together."

"It was like encountering an untamed wild beast instead of a piece of music."

"The Rite of Spring Dance Party incited a liberation of the orchestral musician just as Stravinksy freed the orchestral sound with the piece itself. Playing in the orchestra and feeling the frenetic energy of the audience surging and swirling with every color change allowed me to understand the revolution that is The Rite. I am so grateful to James for having experienced this music viscerally, unchained and unafraid."

"I have performed Rite many times, but this was the first time that I actually felt completely immersed in the emotions behind the music." 

"I have never experienced anything like the Rite of Spring Dance Party. The connection between the audience and the orchestra was indescribable. The audience was provided with the unique opportunity to express their feelings with the music physically, which drove the musicians to new heights in intensity and passion. Overall, it was a night for the history books that I am so glad to have been a part of."