August at The Walt Disney Family Museum features Walt Disney’s classic Fantasia (1940), a musical masterpiece that features the talent of renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, and led to the development of stereophonic surround sound. As Fantasia is a feature film made up of eight animated segments, we've taken the film apart to focus on each segment individually. Today, we are thrilled to present to you a piece from our neighbors, one of the world's leading dance companies: The San Francisco Ballet! In this post written exclusively for Storyboard, SFB's Associate Director of Marketing & Communications Philip Mayard takes a look closer at "The Nutcracker Suite" and the relationship between Disney and dancing!
Disney and Dancing: a Grand Pas de Deux
Over the decades, much has been written about the relationship between Disney and dance. In fact, dance critic and historian Mindy Aloff wrote an entire book about it. Entitled Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation (a reference to the Dance of the Hours section of Fantasia), the book thoughtfully investigates the role of dance and choreography in Disney films. In the forward to the book, renowned choreographer Mark Morris compares Walt Disney to George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Busby Berkeley, saying, “I marvel at the variety of choreographic invention and aptness. What a remarkable resource of whimsy, fantasy, art!”
From the joyous toe tapping and hip shaking of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie and the hilariously macabre chorus line of The Skeleton Dance, to the breathtaking turns, sweeping leaps, and impossibly elegant extension of great Disney heroines like Aurora, Cinderella and Snow White, dance has been at the heart of nearly every Disney animated film. But perhaps no other film in the Disney cinematic canon is more closely tied to the world of classical dance than Fantasia.
Upon the 1940 premiere of Fantasia at the Broadway Theatre in New York, Dance Magazine said, “the most extraordinary thing about Fantasia is, to a dancer or balletomane, not the miraculous musical recording, the range of color, or the fountainous integrity of the Disney collaborators, but quite simply the perfection of its dancing.”
From delicate fairies magically alighting a dark forest, to prancing mushrooms (allegedly inspired by The Three Stooges), spinning flower blossoms, and seductively graceful goldfish, The Nutcracker Suite section of Fantasia showcases a magical range of animated dance sequences that still today leaves dance and film aficionados breathless.
Surprisingly, The Nutcracker Suite section of Fantasia was not directly inspired by the now famous Christmastime ballet, The Nutcracker. The first “road show” of Fantasia opened on November 13, 1940 – over four years before San Francisco Ballet presented the American premiere of The Nutcracker ballet, on Christmas Eve 1944, at the War Memorial Opera House. Staged by SF Ballet Artistic Director Willam Christensen, the ballet was an instant sensation and launched a worldwide holiday tradition. SF Ballet’s current production of Nutcracker, set here in our own “City by the Bay” during the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, has introduced audiences of all ages to the magnificent world of ballet.
We hope you enjoy this month-long engagement of Fantasia at The Walt Disney Family Museum, one of our city’s greatest cultural treasures, and we invite you to join us for another unique and magical experience this holiday season: SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, a San Francisco tradition since 1944.
Fantasia screens daily through August at 11am, 1:30pm, and 4pm (except Tuesdays, and August 25 and 4pm showings on August 15, 18, and 24). Further program information and tickets are available at the Reception and Member Service Desk at the Museum, or online by clicking here.
[Images - Top: WanTing Zhao in Tomasson's Nutcracker, ©Erik Tomasson. Center: Cel setup of the Frost Fairies from Fantasia's "Nutcracker Suite". Photo courtesy The Walt Disney Company, ©Disney. Center: San Francisco Ballet in Christensen’s Nutcracker, 1944. Photo courtesy SF Ballet. Above: San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker, ©Erik Tomasson]