Starstruck – Gene Kelly’s Love Letter to Ballet

Just over 60 years ago, celebrated Hollywood actor and dance star Gene Kelly was invited to create an original work for the Paris Opera Ballet. The result was Pas de Dieux, a fantasy about Greek gods visiting France that was created and choreographed by Kelly.

In collaboration with Gene’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, his original ballet work has been lovingly brought back to life by Scottish Ballet’s Artistic Director and CEO Christopher Hampson and designer Lez Brotherston under the new name ofStarstruck.

Starstruck toured to 4 theatre venues in Scotland from September to October and, thanks to Marquee TV’s filming of one of the performances at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, this unique show can now be enjoyed by a wider public with its World première as a film on 26th November 2021.

The film opens in the hidden, less glamorous part of the theatre that the public rarely sees as the cast gets their curtain call from dressing rooms. The style sets a Brechtian tone as instead of seeing the winged creatures who are meant to star in the story, we are taken to a bare stage with an upright piano in the corner and a bentwood chair beside it. Here, lead dancer Christopher Harrison, who plays Zeus and director of this show within a show, warms up alone with muscular elegance under a spotlight created by Lawrie McLennan, that looks like it comes from a big old Harvest moon on the otherwise dimly lit stage.

Dynamics and rivalries start to manifest as the cast, whose rehearsal costumes from Lez Brotherston are based on the 1960 production, drifts in to join Bruno Michiardi as the pianist (and later Eros), who comes across as a  bit of a  cheeky chap who could have been played by Gene Kelly himself.

Lead dancer Sophie Martin, who also plays Aphrodite, creates a sensation that matches her chic Parisian style in striking colours of grey and duck egg blue with matching satin shoes no less. Her teasing costume change behind the rehearsal mirror has those who await her dance presence mesmerised.

Accompanying music is George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, with extracts from Frédéric Chopin recorded live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and conducted by Jean-Claude Picard, perfectly embodies the two worlds of classical and jazz as rehearsal scenes shift to the dream like sequences where gods inhabit the earth. Stunning visuals of beach scenes and skies, part of which are brilliantly seen with a telescope effect, with Opera Garnier itself both inside and out, create a breath taking backdrop, particularly in the playful makeshift hot air balloon scene.

As a young man, Gene Kelly studied classical ballet and auditioned for the Ballet Russe when the company performed in Pittsburgh, where he was offered a position in the corps de ballet but turned it down. His fame and respect in the world of dance and film are legion, and though it may take afficionados to pin down actual homages to his films that have  been smuggled into the show, his strong presence is evident in Starstruck.

As Starstruck proceeds, the stripped back rough and tumble rehearsal and the dreamy celestial parts gives way to the glitter clad finale that was all Hollywood but that holds the irony of losing deeper sparkle with being too smooth and glossy to be as charming as the rest of the show.

The film is available to view from 26th November till 5th December 2021 with tickets available at the Scottish Ballet website.

Running time: 1 hour

Irene Brown

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