Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dancing in the Dark

Yesterday was International Dance Day and owing to various academic matters (see previous post) I missed both the hip-hop jam session at the VPL concourse and Aeriosa's latest high-flying creation at SFU Woodward's.

I did, however, force myself to get out to the Vancity Theatre for the free program of classic dancing moments on film. Or at least the first half, which took us up to the mid-1950s, and which thus meant no Black Swan or Frances Ha. But we did get lots of Ginger and Fred (the great penultimate waltz from Swing Time), Mickey and Judy, Gene Kelly (Singing in the Rain plus the newspaper dance from Summer Stock), and a bevy of chorines.

What emerged from the selection, expertly curated and introduced by Michael van den Bos, was how thoroughly tap dominated the early history of of movie musicals: from a pint-sized Shirley Temple laying down beats beside the great Bill Robinson (the first interracial couple to dance onscreen); to Eleanor Powell capping the great tap finale of Broadway Melody of 1936 with eighteen whip-fast fouettes (I counted); and the dazzling Nicholas brothers, with their athletic, almost acrobatic version of jazz tap. Tap is not my favourite dance idiom, and as a solo live act I find that it can be exceedingly tedious to watch. However, on film, when choreographed as part of a big, splashy production number, and shot from different angles, it can be quite breathtaking.

Still, I was happy that amidst all the noisy hoofing on offer in most clips there was a charming soft-shoe number from Laurel and Hardy, in which Stan and Ollie prove themselves to be quite light on their feet as they dance along to the Avalon Boys' "At the Ball That's All" in Way Out West (1937).


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