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Our Top 5 Riotous Performances

Six Character in Search of an Author production
Photo: Scene from Six Characters in Search of an Author production by Théâtre de la Ville. Photo by JL Fernandez.

On Saturday, Théâtre de la Ville return to Ann Arbor to perform Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author. Luigi Pirandello won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for his “bold and brilliant renovation of drama and the stage,” and Six Characters, which dates from 1921, is one of his seminal plays, widely considered to be a precursor to the theater of the absurd movement to follow. However, the play caused a riot when it was first produced in Rome in 1921, and was even banned in Britain until 1928.

We were inspired to put together a list of our favorite performance riots. Add your own to the comments below.

1. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – May 1913, Paris

“The ballet was choreographed by the great Nijinsky,” Hoffman says, “and the noise, fighting, and shouting in the audience got so loud, he had to shout out the numbers to the dancers so that they knew what they were supposed to do.” (via)

2. Steve Reich’s Four Organs – 1973, Carnegie Hall, NYC

“One woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing ‘Stop, stop, I confess.’” (via)

3. Ornette Coleman, debut of quartet —1959, Five Spot, NYC

“Coleman’s playing created instantaneous controversy. Miles Davis, Red Garland and Coleman Hawkins were initially openly hostile to Coleman. Dizzy Gillespie said, “I don’t know what he’s playing, but it’s not jazz.”  Davis’s comments, “the man is all screwed up inside,” were the ones picked up by the press, but drummer Max Roach took his outrage far enough to follow Coleman backstage one night and punch him in the mouth.” (via via via)

4. Elvis Presley— 1956, The Ed Sullivan Show, NYC

“In the second show, June 5, 1956, Elvis’s playful performance of ‘Hound Dog’ drove the teens wild, but the press and some adults were outraged. The controversy over his bumps and grinds and gyrating hips only served to fuel the fire. When Ed Sullivan was asked if he would book Elvis on his show, he said he would not. He didn’t want to be the recipient of scathing criticism from the nation’s media.” (via)

5. George Bizet’s Carmen premiere — 1875, Paris

“With a libretto based on a story that many considered too salacious for public performance, Carmen was roundly denounced as immoral by critics even before its score had been completed.” (via)

What are some of your favorite performances like this? Why do you think some performances inspire this kind of reaction and conversation while others don’t?