Tag Archives: Igor Stravinsky

Web Review: The Rite of Spring (Animation)

Capture from animation for 'The Rite of Spring'. Photograph: Courtesy of Stephen Malinowski.

Capture from animation for ‘The Rite of Spring’. Photograph: Courtesy of Stephen Malinowski.

Rating: ***

I was sent a link to this pair of videos over Twitter that form part of the umpteen celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s world-changing ballet, The Rite of Spring. Here animator Stephen Malinowski and music synthesist Jay Bacal team up to create a scrolling visual representation, in two parts, of the original score.

Malinowski, under the YouTube username smalin, has been producing such videos for some time now producing over 200 to date. The whole concept, in Malinowski’s own words is that, ‘the animation lets your eyes lead your ears.’

Don’t be put off by how the animation looks. Despite looking a little like it has been drawn using Microsoft Paint Malinowski’s simple visuals, using a programme he himself invented, leave space for an incredibly insightful analysis of both pitch and timbre. Each shape and its size demonstrates a type of sound: oval for warmth, oblong for sharp and star for staccato. What’s more Malinowski manages to animate each sound’s resonance by means of fading colour within the shape. The result is an in-depth and comprehensive dissection of the great work that is easy to interpret.

When you watch the animation you find Malinowski’s theory of eyes leading ears is bang on the money. You very quickly find yourself far more focused on the nuances of Stravinsky’s scoring rather than if you just sat down and purely listened to it. All of a sudden, even for seasoned aficionados of the piece, you’re opened up to a deeper understanding of the piece’s complexity and genius, provoking a new-found appreciation for the work.

For his other animations Malinowski has been using royalty free recordings, so teaming up with a synthesist is a bold step. Bacal’s music is for the most part incredibly impressive. A lot of the time you really are fooled into thinking you’re hearing an actual symphony orchestra. Unfortuantely, there are still more than a few tell-tale discrepancies that rob it of its convincingness, especially solo cello and trumpet sounds. It’s a stark reminder that despite the fact we’ve come an astoundingly long way since the days of .midi, we’ve still not quite managed to prefect sound reproduction; but Bacal demonstrates we’re certainly very close.

The other fault with the music is one that though managing to do a good job of handling dynamic it’s still quite flat in comparison to professional recordings that capture the vulgarity, passion, and aggression of the piece; it just can’t match an actual live performance. It lacks the personality of a conductor’s interpretation in this very by-the-book reproduction.  Therefore, despite the insight the visuals offer it’s aurally quite unsatisfying, especially for Stravinsky fanatics.

Overall, this is definitely worth a watch as it offers a straight-forward and accessible academic diversion. But for all the other recordings that YouTube has to offer, once you’ve seen this you’ll be going back to listening/watching your preferred performance, albeit a little more informed than before.

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Dance Review: The Rite of Spring/Petrushka (Sadler’s Wells, London)

Fabulous Beast's"The Rite of Spring" from the 2009 production. Photograph: Courtesy of the company.

Fabulous Beast’s “The Rite of Spring” (taken from the 2009 production). Photograph: Courtesy of the company.

Rating: **

Fabulous Beast re-imagine their 2009 Olivier-nominated interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the ballet’s centenary, and also add a new interpretation of the composer’s Petrushka to create two narratively connected pieces in this double bill. But despite the acclaim of 4 years ago fuelling their hype, this premier at Sadler’s Wells is lacking.

With The Rite of Spring the problem was with the musical aspect. Gone are the English National Opera’s tremendous orchestra from the acclaimed 2009 version. Here we welcome just two very talented pianists. But it almost made sense. Stravinsky’s behemoth scoring is irrepressible and the removal of the mountain of sound that a full orchestra creates really gives the dance undivided attention from the audience. It starts off interesting being able to hear every stamp, turn, and breath of the dancers as its resonates through the auditorium. But you quickly start to notice the absence of the thumping string rhythms, the booming trumpets, and the catastrophic percussion that hallmark the work. The tinkle-tinkle of a piano just doesn’t cut it. You’re suddenly left realising and appreciating the genius behind Stravinsky’s scoring and just how integral it is to the ballet – further reflected in the perfectionism of the several revisions he made to the piece during his lifetime.

The modern narrative doesn’t really diverge far from the essence of the original ballet – a sullen matriarch watches over a ritual of rebirth, complete with sex and violence. But without the energy and timbre of an orchestra the dance is bewildering at best. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s choreography is certainly sinister, but it lacks the savagery the piece lusts for. For a production that sends out warnings to school groups about the content it’s decidedly un-shocking, sometimes tumbling into the ridiculous. Apart from a bit of nudey-nudey dancers, dry-humping the stage after dropping your trousers down to your pants is hardly pornographic, and the sexual violence is abstract enough to lose any impact. Furthermore the dog masks look more like we’ve been plunged into a Furries convention rather than an unnerving metamorphosis of wild animal instinct. For a piece that infamously started a riot during its first performance, this version scarcely raises an itch.

Petrushka was an improvement by comparison. Stravinksy’s lighter, more lyrical, and melodic score of this earlier ballet suits a version for four hands much better opposed to the raw rabble of The Rite of Spring. Keegan-Dolan’s brighter approach also boasts tighter and more energetic ensemble pieces. Again, whilst diverging from the original narrative of the ballet, the core elements are still there – romance, rivalry, and ascension. However, these themes are loosely dragged out over the entire 30 minutes of the ballet score and despite a handful of visually arresting moments and managing to capture a fun sense of whimsy, it ultimately doesn’t feel satisfying. Also, its tagging-on as some sort of pseudo-sequel to the previous piece is irritatingly contrived. The matriarch reappears only to shout “non” several times and toss about a few pockets of fake snow. Her presence goes from intimidating to irrelevant.

I’m admittedly more knowledgeable about music than I am dance, so I’m unfortunately unable to offer much comment on the actual choreography itself. However, whilst it certainly looks slick, it just seems too safe with little breath-taking moves or surprising stunts, overall lacking a sense of daring. But it seemed pretty much there and the dance aficionados in the audience certainly seemed to appreciate it.

If you’re into modern dance then I’m sure the choreography itself is quite something whether you burgeon a deep appreciation for the music, like myself, or not. But if you’re not, without a proper musical performance the entire affair is empty. Fabulous Beast seems to ignore the fact that what makes Stravinksy’s ballets is Stravinsky’s music and orchestration, not just the dance, thus rendering The Rite of Spring/Petrushka into something pretentious, dull, and disappointing.

The Rite of Spring/Petrushka plays at Sadler’s Wells, London, EC1R 4TN, until 13th April. Tickets are £12-£38. To book visit www.sadlerswells.com.