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LA’s 'Rite of Spring' festival snubs animation


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After so many snubs, I suppose I should be used to it. Los Angeles is staging another major cultural event, and animation is excluded, just it was from Pacific Standard Time last year.

The other day, I went to the ballet The Rite of Spring, which premiered 100 years ago, with Stravinsky’s revolutionary score. The Joffrey ballet, a recreation of Nijinsky’s choreography, was every bit as stunning as I remembered it when I first saw it in 1987.

But then I discovered the performance was part of a year-long cultural celebration of The Rite of Spring, called LA’s Rite: Stravinsky, Innovation and Dance. Musicians, dancers and scholars will be involved in symposia, performances, exhibitions and digital installations through October.

Nowhere is there a mention of Walt Disney’s use of Rite in Fantasia, which more people have seen than any and all the ballets that will be discussed. True, Stravinsky’s public statements about the film varied widely over the years, but Fantasia introduced generations of film goers to the score — which was still considered pretty shocking in 1940.

 And Stravinsky has other notable ties to animation.

In 1956 NBC aired the first special animated for television; it was a 15-minute version of Stravinsky's ballet Petroushka. Stravinsky edited his score for the program, cutting it from 40 minutes to 15, and he conducted it, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The animated Petroushka won several international awards and screened at the Venice Film Festival.

Almost 30 years later, R.O. Blechman and Christian Blackwood directed an animated version of The Soldier’s Tale, which aired in 1984 as part of PBS’ Great Performances. This striking adaptation featured Blechman’s trademark friable lines, and Max Von Sydow as voice of the Devil.

And Disney returned to Stravinsky to animate a section of The Firebird for Fantasia 2000.

Does animation belong a discussion of dance? I, and many animation artists, argue it does. Both art forms involve choreographing movement to music, whether to present a story or as an exercise in abstract motion. No other medium conveys ballet’s vocabulary of motion as well as animation.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to perform the steps the Joffrey dancers execute so dramatically in The Rite of Spring, or how hard it is to play the score, which changes time signatures five times in the opening six measures. But even that must be easier than convincing LA’s cultural pooh-bahs to give animation the place among the arts it deserves ... especially in the city where so much great animation has been created.

(Charles Solomon is author of The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey and The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation.)