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Scottish Ballet returns with Gene Kelly's 'love letter to ballet' reimagined to remind audiences what they have been missing


By Margaret Chrystall

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Scottish Ballet: Starstruck

Eden Court, Inverness

*****

The reimagined Gene Kelly ballet Starstruck – as Pas De Dieux his only one for the stage – became an exuberant ‘welcome back’ party piece for ballet audiences returning to Eden Court last Thursday and Friday.

Pas De Dieux curtain call with Michel Descombey, Claude Bessy, Gene Kelly, Attilio Labis, Paulette Mons, Lucien Duthoit, from 1960. Picture: Roger Pic
Pas De Dieux curtain call with Michel Descombey, Claude Bessy, Gene Kelly, Attilio Labis, Paulette Mons, Lucien Duthoit, from 1960. Picture: Roger Pic

Scottish Ballet’s version begins and ends with a light switch going on and finally off as the performance ends.

Artistic director Christopher Hampson wraps the everyday life of a ballet company working on a new production around the story of gods testing their love while slumming it on earth with humans in the South Of France.

A stripped Eden Court stage without its flats, made a good dance studio, empty apart from mirrors, a piano, a costume hamper and some ladders and lights. We see the Choreographer – also playing Zeus (Andrew Peasgood) arriving first, thinking of his ballet and visualising the steps.

Claire Souet and Javier Andreu as the sweethearts. Picture: Andy Ross
Claire Souet and Javier Andreu as the sweethearts. Picture: Andy Ross

Soon the dancers and the Pianist/ Eros (Simon Schilgen) arrive and the work gets started creating a new ballet, until everyone is distracted by the entrance of Star Ballerina/ Aphrodite (Constance Devernay).

Gene Kelly reheasrsing with the dancers of Paris Opera Ballet with French star Claude Bessy (third from left. Picture: Roger Pic
Gene Kelly reheasrsing with the dancers of Paris Opera Ballet with French star Claude Bessy (third from left. Picture: Roger Pic

The mix of ballet and jazz dancing that Gene Kelly incorporated in his ballet back in 1960 is oddly refreshing even now.After the show, in a Q and A with some of the dancers and Scottish Ballet CEO Christopher Hampson, the contrast of styles was described – in ballet, striving for lightness and in jazz dancing, the moves constantly connecting with the ground.

But it gave a sense of energy and freedom and almost mischievousness as dancers trained by ballet to turn out their feet, turned them in, stretched their arms up and down to the sky with their fingers wide open or ended a series of moves sliding to a stop on their knees, arms stretched wide.

Paris Opera Ballet rehearsing. Picture: Roger Pic
Paris Opera Ballet rehearsing. Picture: Roger Pic

And it’s hard not to smile when one section gives perfect fouettes – and leapfrogging.

The Q and A also revealed that the artistic director had brought in a musical theatre coach, Alexandra Worrall, to help the dancers master the American style of dance for this show.

There's something satisfying about looking at old black and white photographs taken in 1960 of Gene Kelly rehearsing the dancers and sense the continuity through the decades – seeing their arms up hands bent flat at 90 degrees, just as we saw in Starstruck.

A move lying on the back kicking bent legs up and down like an over-excited child, was one Kelly used himself in the Slaughter On 10th Avenue section of the film Words And Music – as was dancing on the bar. Maybe in Starstruck too, it was one of the nods to Kelly’s career that Scottish Ballet had embedded into the show.

But it was hard to know where the original choreography might have been tweaked by Christopher Hampson who is credited with ‘additional choreography’.

But if the erotic and sinuous pas de deux danced by Aphrodite and Zeus at the end of Act Two was Gene Kelly’s, it showed an exquisite use of ballet vocabulary to express tenderly rediscovered love.

Evan Loudon and Sophie Martin as lovers Aphrodite/Star Ballerina and Zeus/ Choreographer. Picture: Andy Ross
Evan Loudon and Sophie Martin as lovers Aphrodite/Star Ballerina and Zeus/ Choreographer. Picture: Andy Ross

Gene Kelly’s original title for his piece for the Paris Opera Ballet – Pas de Dieux – is a phrase that plays on ‘pas de deux’ – dance for two, of course. But also the word ‘dieux’ or ‘gods’ literally seeming to make the title phrase mean 'not gods’.

And certainly Kelly’s gods, bossy Zeus, bored Aphrodite, seem extremely human, powered by their passions.

The human couple of sweethearts Girl With The Ponytail (Claire Souet) and Life Guard (Barnaby Rook Bishop) that Eros used to add a fling for himself and Aphrodite, were important foils to the gods, those dancers' performances equally persuasive.

Claire Souet and Javier Andreu as the sweethearts. Picture: Andy Ross
Claire Souet and Javier Andreu as the sweethearts. Picture: Andy Ross

And the exhilarating performances of the chorus popped against the colourful giant backdrops and spare set design of Lez Brotherston inspired by Andre Francois' original – the Audrey Hepburns and black sparkling costumes of the male dancers adding some Hollywood glamour and a sense of finale.

Though the musicians of the Scottish Ballet Orchestra were not present in Inverness, their recorded performance, presenting Gene Kelly’s chosen Gershwin, and Christopher Hampson’s added Chopin to the start, were vital, as ever, despite their invisibility.

It was magical, like the winged horse and waiting carriage on the painted backdrop with its Parisian scene at the start – or Gene Kelly himself photographed in black and white on the grand steps of the Palais Garnier where the Paris Opera Ballet staged Pas De Dieux in 1960, the first ballet by an American to be performed there. You could almost hear a ghostly echo of those more than 20 curtain calls.

It is lovely that this ballet lives again, timeless enough to charm new generations – I hope Patricia Kelly is pleased she chose Scottish Ballet to secure its legacy.

And from November 26 there is the film version of Starstruck to look forward to and the chance to savour it all again. MC

Tickets to watch Starstruck (between November 26 and December 5) are on sale at: https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/starstruck-film

Also at: https://welcome.marquee.tv/

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