Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 1: Raoul Dufy

Minute 1:22 (left); Raoul Dufy's Sirène (right) - Click image to enlarge

Raoul Dufy was a French painter born in 1877 in Le Havre. He moved to Paris to study painting as a young man and developed his colorful, seemingly effortless style. His paintings are energetic and joyful, full of life.

And what a wonderful backdrop for George Gershwin’s music! Listen to Gershwin’s melody for a time, then look at Dufy’s work. The two make a perfect pair. It was an inspired match on the part of the filmmakers.

Raoul Dufy died in 1953. But not before he was visited by Gene Kelly and producer Arthur Freed for a private screening of the film. Apparently when the film came to an end, the actor and the producer found that the artist had been moved to tears. He asked to see the ballet a second time.

So here’s the story: Jerry (Kelly) is in love with Lise (Leslie Caron).  And she loves him, but it’s not that simple. Lise tells Jerry that she is has to marry Henri Baurel – a man she feels indebted to for protecting her during the war. Jerry is, understandably, pretty bummed.

Lise leaves with Henri. Jerry finds himself in a dream sequence in which he enters his own sketch (0:30).

The scene fills with colors – red, white, blue and green (0:44)

He begins to move about the scene and we see that he has entered a Paris as seen by Raoul Dufy himself. He is in a Place de la Concorde of Dufy’s creation. Two-dimentional lampposts surround a two-dimentional obelisk - everything splashed with that effortless sketch-like quality. People dressed in red, white and blue-ish grey, Dufy’s often used colors are strewn about the set: a one-man band, children with balloons, women with fabulous hats.

We get our first glimpse of Leslie Caron at minute 3:55, then the ballet moves on from Raoul Dufy and onto other artists.

I’ll leave you with that for now. Coming soon: Place de la Concorde, Renoir and Leslie Caron. Till next time!

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