Tag Archives: Gene Kelly

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 13: Finale & Recap

And so, we come to the conclusion of the epic An American in Paris ballet. Before I discuss the finale, I’d like to give a quick recap of what we’ve looked at so far in this series:

RAOUL DUFY

The Ballet begins in artist Raoul Dufy‘s Place de la Concorde. Our protagonist, Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) finds himself in the artist’s paintings. He picks a red rose up from the ground, but drops it when he is surrounded by women dressed in white. He dances among the crowd of people in the square and  he gets his first glimpse of Lise, the girl of his dreams (Leslie Caron).  Read more in Part 1 and Part 2.

PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR

Jerry enters a flower market that brings to mind the paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He spots a red rose and, as if he conjured her, Lise floats onto the scene. They dance a tender love scene that culminates with her in his arms. Read more in Part 3 and Part 4.

MAURICE UTRILLO

Jerry holds Lise in his arms, but she is quickly replaced with an armful of flowers. He finds himself alone on a Paris street right out of a Maurice Utrillo painting. He broods, but is cheered up by a group of uniformed young men. They enter a shop and buy new outfits, complete with straw hats and canes. Read more in Part 5 and Part 6.

HENRI ROUSSEAU

A group of gendarmes leads us to a carnival inspired by Henri Rousseau‘s fanciful artwork. Lise and a group of girls dance with the gendarmes. Jerry and his new pals show up and begin to flirt and dance with the ladies. Jerry and Lise pair up and steal away for an intimate dance on Dufy’s fountain. Read more in Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9.

VINCENT VAN GOGH

The couple appear in front of the Paris Opera in a scene inspired by Vincent Van Gogh. They encounter fancy opera-goers and encourage everyone to dance. Read more in Part 10.

HENRI DE TOULOUSE LAUTREC

In front of the opera house Jerry and Lise see an advertisement for an exposition for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Jerry playfully imitates the dancer Chocolat in the sketch. Suddenly, Jerry becomes Chocolat himself and finds himself in the Moulin Rouge of Lautrec’s creation. He quickly finds Lise who is portraying the dancer Jane Avril. The pair dance with the Can-Can dancers and among other famous Lautrec personalities. Read more in Part 11 and Part 12.

***

So that’s where we left off. The couple is in love and happy, it seems that nothing could go wrong.

They march out of the Moulin Rouge, through Van Gogh‘s scene in front of the opera house (minute 19.34 of the ballet*), to a hall of mirrors (19.38). Spinning in dizzying circles, the scene transitions and the couple finds itself back where they started – in Raoul Dufy‘s crowded Place de la Concorde (22.08).


Joyfully, Lise and Jerry lead the crowd of people in the square in a triumphant dance. But all of a sudden, Lise and their fellow revelers vanish in the blink of an eye (22.28). Jerry is completely alone.

Frantic, he searches for Lise. He races to the gate where the ballet began. Here, he finds the rose where he had dropped it in the first seconds of the ballet. The color disappears from the scene and he is left with nothing but the red rose in his hand.

Note that in the video I am linking to during this series, the film ballet has been rearranged in order to fit with Gershwin’s original music.

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 12: Toulouse-Lautrec & the Dancers

Minute 18.59 (left); Lautrec's At the Moulin Rouge (right) - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10 and Part 11) 

We are in Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge. This is the most literal part of the ballet. Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are dancing in the works of Lautrec, not merely a world inspired by the artist (as we have seen in Rousseau’s, Dufy’s and Renoir’s Paris).

This part of the ballet begins at minute 17.43. There are so many fascinating characters in Lautrec’s art and several of them make their way into the ballet. We have already established that Gene Kelly is portraying Chocolat (click images to enlarge):

Chocolat
was a clown from Bilbao. After his regular performances at the Nouveau Cirque and would make his way over to The Irish and American Bar with friends. If he felt like it he would dance. Toulouse-Lautrec depicted him on one of these late nights in his sketch, “Chocolat dansant dans un bar”. 

It soon becomes clear that Gene isn’t the only one portraying one of Lautrec’s people. Leslie Caron herself is the dancer, Jane Avril.

Jane Avril was one of Lautrec’s favorite subjects, a fact that has lead many to speculate that the artist was in love with her. Her life was not an easy one. Born to an alcoholic mother and an absent father, she ran away from home. She spent time in an asylum, but was eventually released.

She made her way to Montmartre and became a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. There, she met Toulouse-Lautrec whom she credits in part for her fame. His sketches and portrayals of the dancer captured that which made her unique – she was a loner, aloof and melancholic and her dancing was given to jerky movements.

A third performer I would like to talk about is Louise Weber, more famously known as  “La Goulue” (The Glutton). She isn’t portrayed by a dancer in the ballet, but her image can be seen throughout.

La Goulue was arguably the Moulin Rouge’s most popular dancer and was the subject of several of Lautrec’s works. Where Jane Avril (her successor) was detached and rather shy, La Goulue was outrageous and bawdy. She would tease the men in the audience, showing her embroidered underwear and  kicking off their hats. She stole their drinks and drank them herself. Her style went on to build the popularity of the new Can-Can.

Her story starts out with success and fame, but ends on a bittersweet note. After gaining fame, fortune and an impressive following at night clubs around Montmartre, La Goulue left the Moulin Rouge and started her own act as a part of a traveling fair. Unfortunately, her fans did not follow her.

She became depressed, an alcoholic and she altogether disappeared from public consciousness. She returned to Montmartre in 1928, penniless and alone selling peanuts and cigarettes. No one recognized her.

Here is a poignant video of La Goulue dancing for a reporter who tracked down the once great star years past her prime. She died four years later.

For Further Reference:
– Watch this featurette on Jane Avril & Toulouse-Lautrec.
– See this collection of photos of “La Goulue”.
– Read this brief analysis of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rouge”.

UPDATE:
I just found this picture which tells us a lot about La Goulue. What a character!

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 11: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge

Minute 18:24 (left); Toulouse-Lautrec's La Troupe de Mademoiselle Eglantine (right) - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 and Part 10) 

In my last rant post Jerry and Lise were dancing with Paris’ high society in front of the Paris Opera House. At minute 6.15 of the ballet, the pair see an advertisement for a Toulouse-Lautrec exposition.

Here, Gene Kelly  becomes the dancer, Chocolat in Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1896 piece “Chocolat dansant dans un bar” (minute 17.43*). This is the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec portion of the ballet. The music turns jaunty and Gene finds himself in the Moulin Rouge where he sees the artist himself and gives him a wave. He sees Lise (Leslie Caron) among the can-can dancers and joins her on the stage (18.31).

Toulouse-Lautrec’s work is among the most recognizable of the group of artists we’ve discussed so far. People are familiar with his posters that have become the vintage-chic decor of dorm rooms across America and the artist himself re-entered popular consciousness after his portrayal by John Leguizamo in 2001’s Moulin Rouge!

Toulouse-Lautrec  (1864-1901) spent much of his time at the legendary Moulin Rouge – his posters helped turn it into the most fashionable night club in Paris. Some of his most famous paintings depict the gaudy, colorful and theatrical frequenters of the cabaret.

The club, which was originally built in 1889, catered to the wealthy of Paris who were on the look-out for the opportunity to “slum it” in Montmartre. At the Moulin Rouge they could see performances by the outrageous “La Goulue” or the aloof Jane Avril and it was here that the legendary Can-Can was born.

For Further Reference:
- Listen to this analysis of Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rouge”
- Visit the Moulin Rouge on your next trip to Paris and catch one of its extravagant shows.
– Read the story of the beginnings of the Moulin Rouge (and check out the great pictures included in the article).
 

Note that in the video I am linking to during this series, the film ballet has been rearranged in order to fit with Gershwin’s original music. This section of the ballet comes after the Dufy fountain scene in the film, but appears much earlier in this video.

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 10: This is the Van Gogh Portion of the Ballet??

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 and Part 9)

Ok. I’m just going to say it. I take issue with this next section of the ballet.

If you’ll remember, we left off discussing the two-minute Raoul Dufy interlude on the Place de la Concorde fountain. Jerry and Lise (Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron) have danced a romantic number splashed with dramatic smoke and colored lights. The scene ends with a kiss and the jubilant next section begins.

Jerry and Lise are now in front of the Paris Opera House (minute 5.25 of the ballet*). They cheerfully greet the fancy people they meet in the Place de l’Opéra  and raise a toast to the fancy people sitting in a café (5.37). They encourage the stodgy high-society types to let loose and have a dance (5.42) and soon the whole square erupts in music and dancing.

It’s beautiful. It’s fun and the minute-long scene is delightful. But it frustrates me because this is supposed to be the Vincent van Gogh section of the dance. And I tell you, I just don’t buy it.

When I started researching this post I gave these claims the benefit of the doubt and decided to see where the Van Gogh theory took me. And I’ll grant that there are several elements that point to the artist.

One of the characters here is a guy in an exotically embellished jacket (left, circled – click image to enlarge). He is a Zouave, or a member of a French infantry unit originally composed of North Africans. This is a big clue because in 1888 Van Gogh did a series of portraits of a Zouave (right).

Certainly, those girls dancing behind Jerry and Lise (below, center) are wearing dresses a lot like Van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings. And that sun in the background is definitely something right out of “Starry Night”.


So yes, this does seem to be the Van Gogh scene, but the subject-matter is so… wrong! This part of the ballet is high society, Van Gogh’s work generally depicted farmers and people of humbler backgrounds. He rarely depicted urban scenes. The dresses and the hats the women are wearing here (and that leopard print muff!) are NOT Van Gogh!


This is Van Gogh:


Fields, humble lodgings and ordinary people.

This section of the ballet disappointed me from an thematic standpoint. I would have expected more from Minnelli and the stellar art department. Why not use an artist like Degas, who set so many of his paintings at the opera?

But so it is.

What do you think? Do you buy the Van Gogh connection?

 

Note that the video I am linking to during this series has rearranged the order of the film ballet in order to fit with Gershwin’s original music. This section of the ballet comes after the Dufy fountain scene in the film, but appears much earlier in this video.

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 8: Choreography by Gene Kelly

Minute 10.46 (left); Rousseau's The Dream (right) - Click image to enlarge

 (This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 and Part 7)

At 14, I discovered girls. At that time, dancing was the only way you could put your arm around the girl. Dancing was courtship. Only later did I discover that you dance joy. You dance love. You dance dreams. - Gene Kelly

And the ballet continues.

We are still in Rousseau’s Carnival scene and Lise (Leslie Caron) and the girls have been dancing with the gendarmes. Everyone’s having a grand old time. But you haven’t forgotten Jerry (Gene Kelly) and his four friends have you? We left them in Utrillo Land with their dapper new clothes.

Sure enough, we see five snappy straw hats announcing the arrival of the guys (minute 10.27) – the five friends march their way into the scene.  Thus begins the only tap sequence in the ballet.

Jerry and his friends dance for a spell, when he spies the lovely Lise (11.14). He tries to get her attention by showing off with some nifty dance moves. She’s not impressed (11.25). But he doesn’t give up and eventually she can’t resist his charms (what woman could, really?). He gets Leslie to flash her 100-watt smile and by minute 12.22 she has joined his dance. The whole group joins – the men in taps and the women on pointe.

———

Before Gene Kelly arrived on the scene, Fred Astaire was the rightful king of dance on film. But Astaire represented the immaculate upper-echelons of society. His top hat and tails were as much a part of him as a sweatshirt and blue jeans were to Kelly. Gene was flattered yet baffled by comparisons between the two.  “I was the Marlon Brando of dancers, and he the Cary Grant.”

Gene Kelly helped transform the movie musical with his choreography and his joyful every-man style of dance. His movements were athletic and masculine, but when it came right down to it, he was telling a story that people could relate to through dance.

In 1952 he won an honorary Oscar for his “versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

For Further Reference:
– Watch this interview with Tony winning choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler discussing Gene Kelly.
– See this nifty timeline of Gene’s career .
– Read more about the man here.

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 6: George Gershwin and Other Americans in Paris

Minute 8:19 (left); Utrillo's Church of Saint Severin - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5)

We left poor Jerry (Gene Kelly) alone in the streets of Paris. Lise had just slipped through his fingers (7.59).

At minute 8.19 of the ballet, four guys in military uniforms bound onto the scene. They see a despondent Jerry and hatch a plan to cheer him up (8.27).

Heartened by his friends’ efforts, Jerry is determined not to let his setback get him down. With smiles on their faces, the five guys enter a shop and come out moments later in civilian clothes, complete with straw hats and canes (8.50). They are ready to go on the town.

While the movie is not a blatant World War II film, all of the characters are touched in some way by the war. Lise (Leslie Caron) is engaged to marry the man who sheltered her while her parents were working in the resistance. Milo, Jerry’s benefactor, lost her man in the war (to another woman, but that’s neither here nor there). In the movie’s opening lines, Jerry introduces himself as an ex-GI who stayed on in Paris after the war ended in 1945.

In the same opening monologue, Jerry acknowledges the fact that he is just one of many expatriates in Paris: “No wonder so many artists have come here and called it home.”

Paris has always held a special fascination for Americans. Whether they are drawn to it for the language, the romance, the history or the art, the City of Lights has attracted us like moths to a flame for year.  Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein; the list goes on and on.

George Gershwin was one of those Americans. Born in Brooklyn in 1898, George went to Paris in 1928 hoping to study under some of the masters. Maurice Ravel is said to have asked him, “Why would you want to risk being a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?”

While he was there, Gershwin went on to compose “An American in Paris”.  The piece evokes the Paris of the 1920s – the energy, the atmosphere and the sights. He wrote:

My purpose is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris, as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.

While his composition received mixed reviews at the time, the music has become a standard in the American repertoire. It did inspire an MGM musical after all…

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 5: Maurice Utrillo and Montmartre

Minute 8:10 (left); Utrillo's Paris Street (right) - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4)

The romantic dance in the flower market culminates in Gene Kelly holding the woman he loves in his arms. The scene comes to an end when she fades away and is replaced with an armful of flowers (7.59).

Disillusioned, Kelly finds himself alone on one of the Paris streets immortalized by Maurice Utrillo.

Unlike the scores of legendary painters who were drawn to Montmartre at the end of the 19th century (Van Gogh, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name a few),  Utrillo was born in 1883 and raised in that mecca of European art. He battled alcoholism much of his life and began painting as a way to combat his vice. Utrillo went on to produce thousands of paintings of his native Montmartre.

***

Montmartre’s great hill has been linked with artists for 200 years. The area drew some of the greatest artists of the 19th century. It was a Bohemian paradise for painters, authors, poets, artists’ models and seamstresses up until the beginning of the 20th century.

The name “montmartre” is popularly ascribed to the three local martyrs who were tortured and beheaded in the 3rd century AD. Legend has it that St. Denis, the then Bishop of Paris, picked up his head after it was cut off and walked to his burial place preaching a sermon as he went. St. Denis is the Patron Saint of France and is usually depicted holding his head.

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 4: Leslie Caron

 

Minute 7:42 (left); Renoir's Roses from Wargemont (right) - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1Part 2 and Part 3)

The more I say it, the more it does sound like a fairytale. It’s absolutely unbelievable. I think all the girls in Hollywood wanted to play that part – all the ones that could dance. – Leslie Caron (on being cast opposite Gene Kelly in An American in Paris)

We left off with a discussion of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s work and its incorporation into the American in Paris ballet (Check out the video here).

During Dufy’s Place de la Concorde scene, the music is playful, bright and energetic. At minute 4:12 the tempo slows to a soft, romantic melody. Gene Kelly enters the flower market and picks up a red rose with a smile (4:53). He is reminded of the girl he saw in the square.

As if the memory itself conjured her, Leslie Caron floats onto the scene and into his arms (5:10). And so begins a touching ode to love that I’m sure made many little girls long to be ballerinas. Caron is delicate and youthful – her dancing seems effortless.

An American in Paris was Leslie’s first movie. Born in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, Leslie started dancing at a young age. Gene saw her dancing in Paris, in the Ballet des Champs-Élysées, and was very impressed. She was 17 at the time.

When it came time to cast An American in Paris, Gene insisted the studio get her for the film. It was a perfect decision; Leslie was a great success, bringing to the role a refreshing earnestness.

Leslie Caron went on to have a successful career, both in musicals and non-musicals. She brought both class and a gamine-like playfulness to her roles. See more of her in Gigi, Lili , Father Goose and Chocolat (yes, that one with Johnny Depp).

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 3: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Min 4:50 (left); Renoir's Bouquet of Spring Flowers (right) - Click image to enlarge

(This is a continuation of my series on the An American in Paris ballet. See Part 1 and Part 2)

When I paint flowers, I feel free to try out tones and values and worry less about destroying the canvas. – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

After Gene Kelly’s romp through Place de la Concorde, we find our hero in a flower market (4:36) right out of the paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It seems as if every bunch of flowers in the scene is a recreation of the many bouquets Renoir so masterfully depicted.

Take a look at this shot from minute 7:01:


The little bouquet in the pink vase (bottom right corner) is unmistakably a nod to Renoir’s “Flowers in a Vase”:

The girl in the blue dress that Kelly walks by (4:41) could very well be the “Woman Gathering Flowers” that Renoir painted in 1872:

Renoir was born in Limoges, France in 1841. In 1862, he decided to pursue art seriously and he would go on to become one of the central figures of the French impressionist movement. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s paintings are intimate portraits, suffused with light and color. His subjects were beautiful: children, flowers, and beautiful women. As Renoir himself said, “Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.”

Anatomy of a Ballet – Part 2: Place de la Concorde

Minute 1:28 (left); Raoul Dufy's Place de la Concorde - Click image to enlarge

We left off our last post with Gene Kelly dancing about the Place de la Concorde of Dufy’s imagination. I’d like to take a closer look at the setting of this first part of the ballet and it’s real-life counterpart.

Place de la Concorde today

Place de la Condcorde is Paris’ largest public square. Built in the mid-18th century, the square is notorious for being the setting of the guillotine during the French Revolution.  In a short span of a couple of years over a thousand people were beheaded here including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.

In the 19th century, the name was changed from Place de la Révolution to the much more benign Place de la Concorde (“concorde” being a synonym for the word “harmony”). In the place of the guillotine, the striking Obelisk of Luxor was installed. The 3,300 year old obelisk, also known as Cleopatras Needle was a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt. With the addition of two fountains (which we see a lot of in the ballet) and eight statues, the square looks similar today to the way it did two hundred years ago.

Incidentally, the painting above is of course, by Raoul Dufy himself, but it is his brother’s work who comes up repeatedly when you Google “Dufy + Place de la Concorde” (much to my frustration while writing these posts, I might add).  Jean Dufy (1888-1964) was Raoul’s brother and, if Google is any indication, he seems to have spent a lot more time capturing different aspects of Paris’ magnificent square:

Place de la Concorde around the Internet:
Lonely Planet
Wikipedia
World Sites Guide (Video)