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Staff Picks Category: Dance

An American in Paris []



An American in Paris has long been one of my favorite films. Gene Kelly stars as Jerry, a charming if somewhat overly persistent American artist living in Paris. Oscar Levant plays another American, Jerry’s grouchy but endearing pianist friend Adam, and Georges Guetary plays the part of Henri, a French musical star who is friends with the two Americans. Adam and Jerry are perpetually broke, Jerry because he can’t sell his paintings and Adam because he hasn’t worked in years (he describes himself as the world’s oldest child prodigy). Many of the most charming scenes in the film take place in around the little cafe above which Adam and Jerry both live and which Henri frequently visits.

Early in the film Jerry meets the rich Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), whose professional interest in his work is a thin disguise for her hopes for romance. Jerry reluctantly accepts her patronage, but romantically he is more interested in Lise (Leslie Caron in her first film role), a young woman who, with time, becomes equally drawn to him but who is, though Jerry doesn’t know it, already engaged to Henri.

While the plot of the film is driven by these romances, the spirit of the film is driven by the music of George Gershwin. Gershwin’s music is used throughout the film: all of the songs are by George and Ira, the music for the sixteen minute ballet is an arrangement of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and the remainder of the score draws heavily on these and other Gershwin compositions. We hear strains of Rhapsody in Blue and during a memorable dream sequence we are treated to a performance of the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra in which Adam performs not just on the piano, but on all the other instruments as well.

—And, of course, the dancing. The dancing in this film is incredible. The performances, the choreography, the costumes—there is no aspect of these dances that fails to impress. Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are a perfect match; it is hard to imagine any other two dancers pulling off the required athletic grace or the perfectly balanced blend of ballet and popular dance styles showcased so well in this film. From the good spirited cheer of I’ve Got Rhythm and By Strauss to the sarcastic mocking of This Time It’s Really Love, and the earnest romance Our Love Is Here to Stay, to the passionate and diverse American in Paris ballet, these are dances you will remember and want to see again.

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Paul Taylor, Dancemaker []



Paul Taylor is an innovative dancer and choreographer. He is known for his pioneering work in modern dance and his long career which began in the 1950s (he danced in Martha Graham’s company) and continues today. His choreography can be startling, beautiful, frightening, comical, serious, ornate, minimalist, and much else besides.

This documentary about Paul Taylor’s career focuses on the Paul Taylor Dance company as they prepare and perform a number pieces. We see the company rehearsing and performing, but best of all, we get to see Paul work with the company as he creates new dances. We are also treated to historical footage of Paul performing as a young man. The dancing is fantastic, and the portrait of this great artist is complex. This film is a great introduction to Paul’s work for those unfamiliar with it as well as a treat for those who have already grown to love the dances he creates.

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The story of Vernon and Irene Castle []



Based upon the true story of the celebrated husband and wife dancing team who popularized ballroom dance, this film is the most realistic, the most tragic, and the most touching of the Astaire-Rogers films. The film takes place in the years between 1911 and 1918, and the costumes and music are largely appropriate to that era. Most of the dance sequences emulate the Castle’s distinctive style—Astaire tap dances in only one number and Rogers not at all—and the musical numbers are fewer and more tightly integrated into the plot than in other Astaire films. Of course, the film still delivers what you expect from an Astaire-Rogers collaboration: Astaire is charming, the music is great, the dancing better, and the two stars may have better on-screen chemistry in this film than in any other.

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