Buddy

Christopher Wheeldon Takes On Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

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My local company is currently preparing West Side Story Suite, which they will perform in February. Dancers who can actually sing have already been cast for parts that require it. I'm sure it will be fun. For a 30-minute ballet, there's plenty of room for suspension of disbelief. When you are putting together a full-length show -- one which includes long stretches of dialogue, singing without dance, etc.-- a lot more is at stake and different skills are required.

"Now, Christopher Wheeldon and the playwright Craig Lucas are adapting the movie for a stage production, with Wheeldon to be both choreographer and director."

How literally translated (from movie to stage) do posters here think that the new production will/has to be? With Craig Lucas included it does seem like it might be a lot of theater (acting and singing) as well as dance. Yet the idea that Christopher Wheeldon is also the director fires my imagination.

I still love the idea of Marcelo Gomes or Rolando Sarabia flying around the stage and doing what Gene Kelly did in 'balletic' terms, something that Christopher Wheeldon could handle brilliantly. This might really be an exciting take on the 'heart and soul' of Gene Kelly.

bart 'logo' :

"The consolations of the imagination are not imaginary consolations."

tiphat.gif

By the way, I saw Steven McRae's performances when he won the Lausaunne competition. I live half the year about an hour away. I haven't been to one in awhile because of timing, but back then there was usually one contestant each year or two who really stood out . Steven McRae was certainly one of them. His final number was a tap dance, some of it on pointe. I'd never seen this done at Lausanne, before or since. It was a treat.

And by the way, Bart, they discovered that your own *Miami City Ballet*'s Jeanette Delgado is also a fine singer.

Marcelo, Rolando….now once again 'do ray me fa do' .

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The video of McRae tapping at Prix de Lausanne is embedded in the article to which ballet_n00b linked above.

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I'm going to put Alex Wong up for consideration. He was recently on Broadway in Newsies we know he can tap.

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That's an inspired choice, lmspear.

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Steven McRae was certainly one of them. His final number was a tap dance, some of it on pointe. I'd never seen this done at Lausanne, before or since. It was a treat.

Oooh, toe tap -- it was a specialty item in the 20s and 30s, but not so popular any more.

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Oooh, toe tap -- it was a specialty item in the 20s and 30s, but not so popular any more.

I saw toe-tap in the late 50s at a local dance school in the Midwest. It's as grotesque as it sounds.

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Oooh, toe tap -- it was a specialty item in the 20s and 30s, but not so popular any more.

I saw toe-tap in the late 50s at a local dance school in the Midwest. It's as grotesque as it sounds.

I don't know that I'd describe it as grotesque, but it's certainly a very unusual skill, and so makes a vivid impression. I've seen it used ingeniously a couple of times, and in a few situations as a virtuoso "trick," but it can very easily devolve.

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A model for the ballet to musical transition might be Robbins remaking Fancy Free into On the Town. In fact Fancy Free might be a good audition piece for the Gene Kelly/Jerry Mulligan role – whoever can combine the swagger and slight awkwardness of the sailors might be able to bring off the role, which yes probably should be played by an American, just as Lise should be French.

But who will play be Oscar Levant and Nina Foch? And is Daddy Long Legs the musical far behind?

As for the paintings, here are the artworks of an American artist in Paris, the real thing – Ellsworth Kelly, who spent six years abroad just after World War II:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kelly-mediterannee-l02465

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It's interesting that several MCB male dancers have appeared on Broadway. Wong. Jeremy Cox. Possibly others. But neither had a featured role. (Cox I believe started in Tharp's Come Fly Away in the swing cast and was promoted later.) If I had to choose between the two, I'd go with Cox, who dances best close to the ground, but can jump when needed, not unlike Kelly. His affect is "young but mature," -- again, not unlike Kelly. Assuming that he can speak lines and sing, and dominate the stage while doing so, Cox might be okay. Wong is a creature of the air; his affect is light and young, suitable for something like Newsies.

Both had a lot of time working with Edward Villella in MCB company classes, and Villella definitely had the swagger, ebulliance, street smarts, and technique to be an excellent Jerry Mulligan, if you rewrote the part to make him come from Queens. But Jerry Mulligan has to talk, sing, and act. Many of us can do one or more of these things well enough. But how many can do it well enough, consistently enough, to carry a Broadway show?

The limited success that Stiefel, Baryshnikov and a few others have had in movies is one thing. But movies aren't Broadway, where the performer is exposed for long periods of time and does not have access to the movie director's arsenal of tricks that allow him/her to stitch together "a performance" out of bits and pieces from many takes. Every performance on Broadway is the only "take" the audience gets to see.

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A model for the ballet to musical transition might be Robbins remaking Fancy Free into On the Town. In fact Fancy Free might be a good audition piece for the Gene Kelly/Jerry Mulligan role – whoever can combine the swagger and slight awkwardness of the sailors might be able to bring off the role, which yes probably should be played by an American, just as Lise should be French.

In this case the reverse. The movie musical could become the 'ballet'.

The more that I think about it the more perfect seems
*Alina Cojocaru*
The timing could be good. It might be a welcome change of pace. She's pure Sunshine. Actressing seems to be her second artistic love.
She could probably handle a French accent but I couldn't tell a Romanian accent from a French one anyway. Could you ?

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But Jerry Mulligan has to talk, sing, and act. Many of us can do one or more of these things well enough. But to carry a Broadway show?

"Us" ? happy.png
No singing that I know of yet but Irina Dvorovenko (ABT) seems to be off to a good start.
Added comment:
For the movie anyway, the director of Billy Elliot made it well known that he sought someone with No(!) previous acting experience.

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Here's the direct link to McRae's Prix de Lausanne tap number:

Toe tapping is making a comeback: there are three tappers that made the Top 20 on this season's "So You Think You Can Dance," and at least two of them have used it in their solos.

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I love the way his tapping mimics the James Bond theme, at one point.

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The example of McRae's toe-tapping, where he occasionally goes forward on the points of the tap shoes, is not what I was thinking of. What I saw in the late 50s were girls wearing ballet pointe shoes outfitted with metal on the ends and dancing on pointe in tap dance moves, with the added twist of making noise with those pointes. I still consider that pretty grotesque.

At the very bottom of this page, you can see photos of those pointe shoes with metal attached:

http://www.the-perfect-pointe.com/TapEnPointe.html

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The film-to-stage adaptation has become a category all its own in contemporary musical theater -- I think it might be smart to look at works like Hairspray or Singing in the Rain when we think about what a stage version of American in Paris might be.

It's representative of the shift of cultural power and influence from Broadway to movies. It used to be that Broadway musicals transferred to film with a great deal of pomp and fuss, as if doing the movies a favor, and now it's mostly the reverse, with the theater often relying on properties that were made for the movie house, and also on movie stars to sell tickets.

The limited success that Stiefel, Baryshnikov and a few others have had in movies is one thing. But movies aren't Broadway, where the performer is exposed for long periods of time and does not have access to the movie director's arsenal of tricks that allow him/her to stitch together "a performance" out of bits and pieces from many takes. Every performance on Broadway is the only "take" the audience gets to see.

Off topic, but Baryshnikov had a success in movies unparalleled by any other ballet star. He was a genuine movie star and he proved himself a pretty decent actor as well. He's been appearing on stage recently and without having seen him I'll bet he acquits himself well.

Stiefel hardly compares, but perhaps his timing was off. Baryshnikov came along at just the right time, with popular interest in ballet at a peak. (Also nobody was going to get any Oscar nominations for Center Stage.)

As for that "arsenal of director's tricks," they can only go so far. There was no magicking away the disaster that was Julie Kent in Dancers.......

I didn't really follow along with the critical commentary when Wheeldon made a version of AiP for NYCB -- I was glad to see that thread, but I do think it's a very different job to stage a musical adaptation of a film than it is to make a ballet based on themes from the play or the film. Wheeldon's suite of dances from Carousel has many virtues, but it is not a set of excerpts from a stage show.

Very true, but the NYCB piece does give us an idea of how Wheeldon initially conceived the music for dancing. It will be interesting to see if he uses some of the same choreographic material or tries something new with it. Quiggin's analogy with Robbins is on the mark, I think. Big shoes to fill. This is a very ambitious project for Wheeldon to take on, if he is indeed directing the production.

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Julie Kent acquitted herself quite nicely in "Center Stage." I thought she was wicked.

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I didn't really follow along with the critical commentary when Wheeldon made a version of AiP for NYCB -- I was glad to see that thread, but I do think it's a very different job to stage a musical adaptation of a film than it is to make a ballet based on themes from the play or the film. Wheeldon's suite of dances from Carousel has many virtues, but it is not a set of excerpts from a stage show.

Very true, but the NYCB piece does give us an idea of how Wheeldon initially conceived the music for dancing. It will be interesting to see if he uses some of the same choreographic material or tries something new with it. Quiggin's analogy with Robbins is on the mark, I think. Big shoes to fill. This is a very ambitious project for Wheeldon to take on, if he is indeed directing the production.

Absolutely, Wheeldon's earlier work with the AiP score is probably a good indication of his choreographic intentions, but as you point out, there's so much more going on with a full musical. Tharp had a devil of a time with Singing in the Rain, another Kelly film.

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Julie Kent acquitted herself quite nicely in "Center Stage." I thought she was wicked.

That was many years later. In Dancers she was completely out of her depth and The Voice...why they just didn't use some of that movie magic and dub her I will never know. By the time of Center Stage her voice was still nasal but it wasn't like nails on a chalkboard.

Tharp had a devil of a time with Singing in the Rain, another Kelly film.

That's what I understand too, sandik. Apparently the dancing was trickier, but these movies aren't really about fancy dancing. (And with Singin' in the Rain you have a property that is not only a film original but is very much a movie about the movies.) I would have been interested to see what Tharp did with it, though.

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Off topic (cont'd.)


Off topic, but Baryshnikov had a success in movies unparalleled by any other ballet star. He was a genuine movie star and he proved himself a pretty decent actor as well. He's been appearing on stage recently and without having seen him I'll bet he acquits himself well.

You're right, diract. I don't know why I included his name in that sentence. Perhaps it was because I couldn't, off the top of my head, remember any other ballet-dancer/actors except Stiefel. blushing.gif

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Bart, thanks for your very interesting insights into the difference between making a movie and a stage production.

Dirac, I don't think that your mention of Mikhail Baryshnikov is off topic because we are partially mulling over what might work here and considering the 'theatrical' success of someone like Mikhail Baryshnikov is certainly part of that.

I've been fantasizing with the idea of a dance sequence in which a young professional dancer and a little girl with no dance experience at all play off each other. The reason that the director of Billy Elliot didn't didn't want a professionally trained actor for the movie role of Billy was that he wanted someone completely fresh, perhaps spontaneous. He is probably a seasoned 'theatrical' director who could manage this. I don't know if Christopher Wheeldon being primarily a choreographer could do the same. It would be interesting to see if some of the cast chosen, perhaps ballet dancers, who may be completely unfamiliar with dialogue or song, could bring something fresh and natural to those parts of the production.

Added thought:

Really funny if Christopher Wheeldon decided to use someone with no professional dance experience, because he is 'a seasoned choreographer and could handle it.'

[Minor word change made]

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Thanks, Buddy. There's also the example of Moira Shearer, a "natural," as the director of The Red Shoes, Michael Powell, observed, who left dancing to act on stage as well as in movies. Other ballet dancers I've seen on film tend to be good natural actors. And unlike movie actors dancers are accustomed to maintaining character and body awareness in performing situations where the audience can see them from head-to-toe all the time. I would think a potential issue would be vocal problems - if you don't have much vocal training projecting over theater distances for an extended period of time is not easy. Of course, these days almost everything is miked.....

Perhaps it was because I couldn't, off the top of my head, remember any other ballet-dancer/actors except Stiefel

There are a few, now I think about it. Aside from Shearer, Nureyev also played leads. Herbert Ross' "Nijinsky" features George de la Pena, Leslie Browne, Anton Dolin, and Carla Fracci, and they all did just fine (De La Pena was overmatched, but it was his dancing, not his acting, that was the big problem.)

One of the big what-ifs, of course, is Gelsey Kirkland, originally slated to take the role of Emilia in "The Turning Point." I understand her stated reasons for backing out - Emilia is a ninny - but it was a mistake, I think. She probably would have done very well and of course the dance sequences would have profited hugely by having a ballerina on competing terms with Baryshnikov. But now I really am wandering off topic................

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So a partial summary is that ballet dancers could work but they would have to be able to sing and act for Gene Kelly and act for Leslie Caron (did she also sing?).


Based on our 'no-stone-unturned' historical research this seems possible. flowers.gif


We even offered our 'dearest to our heart' choices.


You're very welcome, 'Chris'. Wishing you much success.

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Now if we could teach him to dance.



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