The Dance Academy Movie

I don’t really know how to express my feelings about the new Dance Academy movie, based on the Australian television show of the same name. First things first, let’s start with the trailer…

Ok. Cheesy, dance movie? Yeah you bet. Dancing that could be better? Always. Storyline and characters that so closely resemble the people who I met throughout my ballet career? Scarily, and rather embarrassingly accurate.

Dance Academy feature film

I first watched Dance Academy on Netflix one weekend when I was stuck at home with nothing to do. I was immediately hooked because, beyond the typical teenage drama (which is enticing enough on its own) I saw my own adolescence in this show. I saw a handful of summers of ballet intensives at ballet companies around the nation – I saw the pas de deux romances, the crazy teachers, and the dorm-life antics. I saw myself in Tara Webster – a wide-eyed girl who just wants to fly and believes in magic, and sees it come true when she dances. In later seasons, I saw myself in Abigail Armstrong… Like big time.

Dance Academy feature film

Dance Academy feature film

I fell in love with this show because, despite the teeny-bopper storylines, I saw in it something relatable. Something I longed for in my youth. A barometer to tell me that the sacrifices I was making for this art form were valid, justified, and something young people like me struggle with all over the world. And a gauge to see how it was normal to struggle with that commitment.

Dance Academy feature film

Dance Academy has its flaws. But regardless, I think it is an awesome show for young dancers, and I’ll just admit, it’s an awesome show for us old dancers who maybe have forgotten just how sweetly naive, hopeful and dedicated we all were – we all had to be. I can’t wait to the see the feature film when it hits the states… Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long!

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Can it be, I Like Myself? Nope, I just like Gene Kelly.

Musical Magic…

The Comden and Green, MGM film It’s Always Fair Weather, bombed at the box office, and marked the end of the brilliant film partnership between Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, but the film has some truly endearing qualities and even earned Comden and Green an Oscar nom for original screenplay. Top of the film’s endearing list is, hands-down, this number in which Kelly’s character does a complete tap number on roller skates. It gives the “traveling time step” a whole new context, and allowed Kelly to choreograph to the new wide pan of Cinemascope with a gliding ease.

I recently found out that my mother has never seen this number and I simply can’t have that. So Mom, this is for you…

The only other Kelly number I love more than this (Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris are not included, because those films are in a whole different category of life,) is this number from Summer Stock…

In my humble opinion, both of these brilliant dance-on-film moments are ones to be studied, again and again, for their technique, their originality, but mostly for their exuberance, which is nothing less than inspiring.

Happy Dancing!

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Movie Monday | Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh (1945) is the first of 3 MGM musicals that paired up Gene Kelly with superstar Frank Sinatra… obviously the pairing proved perfect!
Kelly plays Joe Brady, a sea-wolf and all around ladies man with a heart of gold (naturally.) Meanwhile Clarence Doolittle aka Brooklyn (Sinatra)  plays a naive young sailor with no skills at impressing the ladies.  (FICTION!)  The two are awarded with a special leave in San Diego and both hitch a bus to LA.  Sinatra clings on to Kelly to learn how to snag a “dame” but the two wind up caught in a hollywood adventure filled with love, laughs, and music!
Throw in a young and annoying whippersnapper in the form of the cherub faced Dean Stockwell , who happens to have a beautiful guardian in the form of Aunt Susie, played by soprano Kathryn Grayson, add a love triangle, the Hollywood Bowl, Olvera Street and a tap dance scene with Jerry the cartoon mouse and you’ve got 143 minutes of musical fun.

The first person we see in Anchors Aweigh is celebrity conductor Jose Iturbi, who goes on to be the elusive goal for Kelly and Sinatra’s quest.  In an effort to impress aspiring singer Aunt Susie, the two sailors lie and say they have set her up with an audition for Iturbi… They then spend the rest of their leave trying to make it happen.
Overall, the story is a bit all over the place, but the film is brimming with such wonderful songs and dance numbers, it actually doesn’t matter.  It’s just plan fun to watch.  The dance scenes with Kelly are particularly strong… By far some of his best, inventive dance numbers, with his duet with Jerry the mouse standing out as an amazing feat in animation for the time.
There’s a famous story about the making of this film and task Kelly had of teaching Sinatra to tap dance.  The pair do one number together and if you watch closely you can see how hard Sinatra is concentrating and following Kelly.  Apparently, they had to do 73 takes of the dance before Frank got it right! 

The Verdict:  Anchors Aweigh is a great musical comedy that’s fun for all ages.  Great dancing, good music, a really sweet love story, and a fun portrayal of Hollywood in the 1940’s.  Watch it Here! 

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Movie Monday | The Red Shoes

For today’s Dance Movie post, I’m going big with The Red Shoes…. Arguably the best representation of the ballet world ever committed to fictional film!  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 masterpiece beautifully captures the obsessive nature of classical ballet and shrouds protagonist Victoria Page’s (Moira Shearer) struggle to choose between her true love and her love of ballet, in gorgeous cinematography, dreamy sets and costumes, brilliant dancing and an outstanding cast.

I recently re-watched the film, and was once again impressed at how it remains compelling and relevant, despite being set during a very different period of ballet than now.  What remains, besides a tour de force in beautiful film making,  is the sense of commitment and sacrifice ballerinas have to make over and over again… The bittersweet struggle of wanting to be at once supernatural and normal; wanting to be a ballerina AND a regular person.  That ambivalence, prevalent in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name, is what I think really drew me into this film. The obsession Victoria feels which ultimately leads to pain and loss is something that I feel I can relate to (and probably most ballerinas feel the same way.)  She states her affliction to Artistic Director Boris Lermontov (AntonWalbrook) early on in the film answering his question “Why do you want to dance?” with “Why do you want to live?”

The answer to both is “I must.”  And so begins our journey into obsession.  
Boris Lermontov is the classic picture of the the ballet artistic director – in moments he seems incredibly generous and then suddenly cold.  He’s at once genius and pig-headed.   His tyrannical manner was partially based on Sergei Diaghilev, and as prima ballerina Irina Boronskaja says in the film, “He has no heart!.” He is, in a way, the red shoes in human form – Always demanding that the dance go on for Victoria.  And she can’t resist.  

Besides the powerful emotion coursing through the film, it also portrays a historical era of ballet – when company and choreographer and composer and designer and painter and dancers all worked together to create a full scale production with every story ballet.  It’s the closest one can get to seeing Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a behind-the-scenes melodrama.  It even co-stars the great dancer and choreographer Léonide MassineA star of Diaghiliv’s Ballet Russes as well as the later Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  That in itself is thrilling.  Throw in the gorgeous sets, costumes and cinematography of the film, and well, shucks…. How can you not fall in love?
Furthermore, the love story between Vicky and young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) provides the other sweet side of the ballet coin.  The two are thrust together by Lermontov in the creation of his new ballet, and throughout the stressful rehearsals the two headstrong young artists drive each other crazy, burt it’s not long before they find a passion for each other that they can’t ignore.  They fall in love, and everything seems perfect for a moment, until Lermontov finds out….

If nothing else you should see this film for the performance of Moira Shearer as ‘Vicky.’  She is nothing short of brilliant.  And her ballet technique is really quite remarkable given the time and taking into account the caliber of other film ballerinas during that period.  Shearer puts them all to shame.  The actual Red Shoes ballet scene is incredibly moving and stunning to behold.  

The Verdict:  The Red Shoes is the full package.  It’s not just a great dance movie, it’s a great film.  Full stop.  It’s compelling, thrilling, entertaining, and has brilliant music, dancing and acting.  It’s a classic, one that every dancer should see and every non-dancer should see too.  Even Martin Scorsese counts it as one of his personal favorites and has an impressive collection of Red Shoes artwork and memorabilia.   So yeah.  This ballet film is the real deal! 

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Movie Monday: Girl Crazy

Ok to be fair, there is not a lot of dancing in this one… But there is some, including a big snazzy ending number set to “I Got Rhythm.”  Just like my previous movie post, all the music in MGM’s 1943 film Girl Crazy is by the Gershwin brothers, which means it’s all fantastic.  And the film follows a good deal of the storyline from the Broadway play of the same name (which was revived and rewritten slightly in the early 90’s under the name Crazy For You.)
The film stars a young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney – one of the best and final films in their series of “barn musicals.”  It tells the story of a rich New York playboy Danny Churchill Jr. (Rooney) who gets sent out west to the all-male Cody College, as his father’s effort to curb his wild girl-chasing ways.  He’s completely depressed until he lays eyes on Ginger Gray (Garland) the daughter of the dean and the only female at Cody.
What ensues is a fairly typical, humorous romp in which Ginger starts out detesting Danny for his city-boy ways, while Danny struggles to keep up with his cowboy-like peers.  But eventually Danny wins Ginger’s affection and the two work together to put on a fundraising Rodeo / beauty contest to save the school from financial ruin.  Along the way there are some really fun numbers, including a charming rendition of “Embraceable You” from Garland, a cute campfire version of “Bidin’ My Time” and an early appearance from June Allyson singing “Treat Me Rough.”  The film also features Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra with a performance of Fascinating Rhythm on which Rooney plays the piano with impressive skill.

The final number is the only one directed by Busby Berkley, who holds the directing credit on this film (and you can totally tell, because it’s got that over-the-top Busby style that doesn’t match the rest of the movie.)  But the majority of the film was directed by Norman Taurog in a much more tempered, modern style.
The Verdict:  This is one of those films that is guaranteed to make you smile.  It’s silly, fun and yes, totally dated, but that’s precisely what gives it its charm.  As I mentioned before, the music is great on it’s own, but it also captures Garland and Rooney at their best.  I think it’s a perfect summer flick, one that’s too cute to pass up.

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Movie Monday – An American In Paris

Happy Memorial Day!  I think it’s the perfect Dance Movie Monday for one of my all time favorite dance movie’s ever – An American In Paris!

Released in 1951, and the winner of 6 Academy Awards (including Best Picture) An American In Paris tells the story of an ex-GI who stays in Paris after the war to try his hand at being a painter.  Starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the film follows Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) as he finds himself caught in a complicated love triangle, or rectangle rather, between himself, Lise Bouvier (Caron) a wealthy American art collector and a famous French singer.

That description doesn’t even begin to capture the beauty and joy of this film though.  Brilliantly directed by Vincent Minnelli, with choreography by Kelly, and bursting with the music of George and Ira Gershwin, An American In Paris is simply 2 hours of MGM musical magic – portraying the look and feel of Paris that we all romanticize and dream about (well I do anyway.)
Nearing the end of the film, Kelly and Minnelli boldly included a long ballet sequence – a day-dream of Mulligan’s as he tries to come to grips his freshly broken heart.  The ballet brings to life French impressionist paintings, and iconic Paris landmarks in ways that colorfully stirs the imagination.  In a word, it’s stunning.

The Verdict:  Clearly I am a huge fan of this film and I cannot recommend it enough to dancers, movie geeks, and civilians alike.  It’s just perfect and a visual “moveable feast.”  While there are moments of less-than-perfect ballet technique from the young Caron (she was only 18 or 19 when they filmed it) it’s completely forgivable for the time.  And her charm and stage presence are second to none.  It’s no wonder she went on to have such a successful screen career after this film!
I’ll admit that I hold this film mostly responsible for my interest in taking up ballet (I was pretty much just a tapper before seeing An American In Paris.)  But after seeing Leslie Caron dance around in pointe shoes in every color of the rainbow, I was hooked.  I wanted to do that too!

Also, as a devoted Gene Kelly fan, An American In Paris is in the running for my favorite movie of all time, along with Singin’ In The Rain.  So forgive me if I sound a bit obsessed… It’s mostly because I am!
If you’ve never seen An American In Paris you’re in for a big treat!
And if you’re in LA, you can actually see it the way it was meant to be seen (on the big screen) at the Egyptian Theater this coming Sunday, May 31st!  This special screening from the American Cinematheque will include a discussion with scenic artist John Moffitt, cinematographer and film historian Michael Lonzo, costume designer Mikael Sharafyan (nephew of Irene Sharaff) and Patricia Ward Kelly, author and widow of Gene Kelly and creative director of “Gene Kelly: The Legacy.”
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