Available on demand from November 26, 2021
In 1960, the legendary American dancer, choreographer and actor Gene Kelly created Pas de Dieux for the Paris Opera Ballet. Based on Greek mythology, it sees Aphrodite, bored with her marriage to Zeus, and her friend Eros, have fun and games with a lifeguard and his pony-tailed girlfriend on a 20th-century South of France beach. All ends well however, with heavenly and human lovers reunited.
Premiered on stage earlier this year, Starstruck is a joyous revival of the ballet, reconstructed by Scottish Ballet CEO and artistic director Christopher Hampson in close association with Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly.
This film version directed by Oscar Sansom (Dive), in partnership with Forest of Black (The Secret Theatre), combines footage of live performance with cinematic film techniques and elements not seen in theatres. Set to largely Gershwin’s cool and sassy Piano Concerto in F (although the middle section is surprisingly lyrical), Starstruck is an hour of super entertainment. Just right for a cold, dark evening.
Starstruck frames Kelly’s ballet with a new prologue and epilogue created by Hampson that effectively turns it into a ballet within a ballet. The way the former establishes characters is a treat, and not just for the principals. We see plenty of individuality elsewhere too. The camera proves a real winner here as it lets us see facial expressions clearly.
Stagehand Nicholas Shoesmith bumps into the choreographer (who becomes Zeus) Christopher Harrison as the latter makes his way to the stage. The dark looks the pair give each other hints at rivalry to come (they later dance a very well-choreographed fight). A dimly lit stage oozes atmosphere. When the thoughtful Harrison dances alone and so elegantly to excerpts from Chopin’s Les Sylphides, there’s some inventive play with the mirrors as he dances at first with himself, then with an imagined image of his Star Ballerina (Aphrodite), Sophie Martin. It’s as though we are seeing into his mind. When Martin appears for real, her fine clothes and high heels mark her out as a diva among the otherwise leotard-clad dancers.
Bruno Micchiardi as the pianist (although he doesn’t do much piano playing!) turned Eros springs around the stage in a torrent of playful energy. Hyper-enthusiastic barely does him justice.
When the Gershwin kicks in for the ballet within the ballet, the catchy choreography is Gene Kelly through and through. Tender love duets (Martin is deliciously seductive in a rainbow tutu) sit easily with dynamic earthy, jazzy ensemble numbers straight out of a Hollywood musical. It’s quite glorious, helped by sparkling performances from all the dancers who take to the style quite naturally.
A reunion pas de deux for Aphrodite and Zeus is intensely romantic, before the postscript rounds the film off nicely, taking us back to studio after the performance. The lights may be turned off, but the memories remain.
Lez Brotherston’s stripped back designs (based on the late André François’ originals that were lost in a flood) leave acres of space that allows everyone and everything to be seen. The rehearsal stage is defined by just a few wheeled mirrors and studio lights. Later, and helped by some vivid projections, a lifeguard platform signals the beach, and just a few pieces of furniture indicate a bar.
Pas de Dieux has been rarely seen since its first performances. Patricia Ward Kelly had been looking for a company to revive it for many years but struggled to find much interest until Scottish Ballet said ‘yes’. In many ways, it is a ballet of its time. It exudes period and Hollywood of old. But with the creative thinking of Hampson, as Starstruck, subtitled ‘Gene Kelly’s Love Letter to Ballet’, it has remerged as a real delight; a fresh, vibrant ballet full of colour and energy. I would love to see it live. Hopefully the company can bring it to London – soon.
Scottish Ballet’s Starstruck is available to rent on marquee.tv from November 26 to December 5. £9.99 gives you unlimited views for 48 hours.