Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Invitation to the Dance


I’m guessing Gene Kelly was really hot after An American in Paris in 1951 and Singin’ in the Rain in ’52. Because he brought them his pet project. An all-dance movie. Three separate stories. No dialogue. True ballet. Kelly would direct and choreograph it. I can almost see the frozen smiles on the faces of the studio execs at MGM. But they let him make it. And then they got cold feet, and didn’t release it until 1956. And they were right. It bombed. But Gene was right in the end, as it is now seen as a classic.

“Circus.” Gene wasn’t afraid to relinquish the spotlight. This one really features two ballet dancers, Igor Youskevitch and Tamara Toumanova. Kelly is the sad clown of a street circus, in love with the ballerina, who has eyes only for the aerialist. It is very colorful, and very classical. It seems maudlin at first, but I was surprisingly moved by his death scene at the end.

“Ring Around the Rosie.” A man gives a bracelet to his wife, who promptly gives it to an artist, who passes it on to a model … and on and on until the husband gets it back … and this is where the logic falters for me … he gives it back to his wife, and they are somehow reconciled. Did I miss something? This is an old, old idea that I first saw with Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s Circle of Love (La Ronde) in 1964. So the device isn’t much, but the dancing is very good, and the sets are terrific abstracts.

“Sinbad the Sailor.” Gene Kelly first danced with an animated character, Jerry the MGM Mouse, in 1945 in Anchors Aweigh. Here he dances through an entire animated universe, and it’s very impressive, in some ways even better than the animated sequences in Mary Poppins, quite a few years later. People think it was a new technology, but it goes at least all the way back to the early 1920s with Walt Disney’s “Alice” short cartoons.