Erik Satie is often attributed with anticipating many, if not most of the major movements in French art in during the early decades of the twentieth century, including Cubism, Surrealism, and Dadaism. Relache, a ballet, is thought by some musicologists, Satie scholar Alan Gillmor among them, to be an early Dadaist work, predating Dadaism by a good ten years. The work was conceived and created in collaboration with the poet and painter Francis Picabia, and theatre and ballet impresario Rolf de Mare. Picabia and Satie were well-met as collaborators; both were unconventional and iconoclastic, with a flair for the irreverent and a taste for controversy. The ballet was intended to rail against convention, and to provoke. The title alone, a term which may mean "No Performance," or "Theatre Closed," already hinted at the ballet's connections with Dadaism, and its nontraditional (anti-traditional) nature.
Relache was Satie's last work. It is a ballet in two acts, with a film, Entr'acte, intended to be shown after the overture and then again between acts. Satie also provided the music for Entr'acte. Shot by film critic Rene Clair, the experimental film is full of humorous, surrealistic images, and outrageous scenes. Filmed in Paris, Entr'acte includes scenes in which a ballerina with a beard and moustache dances, a hunter shoots a large egg with a shotgun, only to be shot in turn by Picabia, and a mock funeral procession with a camel-drawn hearse causes havoc in the streets. The music for the film, which Robert Orledge describes as "revolutionary," consists of yet another example of Satie's forward-looking style. The score for Entr'acte includes ad lib. repetitions of discrete, "self-contained segments," perhaps an early manifestation of indeterminant music. It is also an excellent early example of film music, as the different segments of the music reflect and support, as Gillmor notes, "the rhythm of the action," serving as "a kind of neutral rhythmic counterpoint to the visual action." The film score consists largely of juxtaposed units of ostinati, and is scored for small orchestra.
Satie referred to Relache, as a pornographic or obscene ballet, and indeed, some of the staging, which included large silver breasts with light bulb nipples along with a coterie of half-naked dancers, certainly supports this designation. The work is essentially plotless, with a central female character dancing with changing numbers of male characters--including a paraplegic in a wheelchair--all of whom wander in and out of the audience while images are projected onto a screen, balloons are released, and clothes are removed. Throughout the ballet, a man dressed as a fireman wanders about on the stage, passing water from on bucket to another. Musically, the ballet proved shocking to audiences and critics, perhaps even more so than the provocative staging and choreography, but, this kind of music was nothing new to Satie. Most of the music for Relache was adapted from popular, generally bawdy tunes, including a number of very raunchy army songs. While the ballet seems by all accounts to have been a nonsensical, fragmented spectacle, the music is much more unified and symmetrical, using reoccurring motives which are overlapped, transformed, and recontextualixed to connect the twenty-two numbers of the work. As expected, the work provoked scandal, and was only performed about a dozen times. It was despised by critics, who attacked the stupidity of the staging, and the paucity of the score.