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Friday, 17 August 2012

Invitation to the Dance (1956) - Star of the month... Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly as Sinbad romances a harem
'Invitation to the Dance' (1956) is an all-dancing anthology film directed, choreographed and starring Gene Kelly. Co-starring with Kelly are some of the leading ballet dancers of the 1950s including Tommy Rall, Carol Haney, Igor Youskevitch, Belita and Tamara Toumanova. The film was produced by Arthur Freed.

Kelly's intention was for the film to educate mainstream film audiences on the appreciation of modern ballet by showcasing a selection of the world's greatest dancers.  As a result, there is no spoken dialogue in the film, with all characters telling the story through music and dance. Technically, 'Invitation to the Dance' could be considered a silent film.

'Invitation to the Dance' is broken into three distinct ballets which run approx. 30 mins each. Gene Kelly is the only dancer to appear in all 3 ballet sequences.

The ballets are as follows:
  • Circus
  • Ring Around the Rosie
  • Sinbad the Sailer
I structured the rest of this blog in the same way as the film.

Watch the trailer:


Gene Kelly as Pierrot the Clown in the 'Circus' sequence
The first segment, 'Circus' is a ballet set in a circus, as you may have guessed.

Danced to original music composed by Jacques Ibert, Gene Kelly blends several different forms of performance art including ballet, slapstick comedy, commedia dell'arte, acrobatics and aerialism.

Contrasting between on-stage and backstage images, we are told the story of an ill-fated love triangle. Gene Kelly plays Pierrot the Clown, who is in love with a fellow performer (played by Claire Sombert), who is in love with an aerialist (played by Youskevitch). The close up footage of the audiences reactions, translate from the film into the emotions of the film spectator, and we too feel we are among the crowd watching the circus performance.

We experience a contrast of emotions, with the sorrow of Pierrot the Clown hidden in the joy of the performers and audience.

Watch a clip from 'Circus'

Ring Around the Rosie

The sequence begins with an introduction to the 9 characters we are about to meet, which dissolves into a gold bracelet, which forms the basis of the ballet.
Belita as The Femme Fatale in 'Ring Around the Rosie'

The ballet is danced to original music by Andre Previn (who also appears as himself conducting an orchestra). 

'Ring Around the Rosie' tells several romantic stories, linked by the exchange of a gold bracelet. The bracelet is first given by The Husband (played by David Paltenghi) to The Wife (played by Daphne Dale). The Wife gives the bracelet to The Painter (played by Youskevitch), who gives it to The Model (played by Claude Bessy), and the bracelet is given to several other characters, before eventually returning to The Husband, who gives it back to The Wife.

Although this sequence is a clever concept, it tends to get quite confusing to watch, as there are far too many characters for such a short ballet sequence.

Clip from 'Ring Around the Rosie'

Gene Kelly as Sinbad is chased by the Sultan's guards

Sinbad the Sailor

The third and final segment, 'Sinbad the Sailor' is a musical fantasy, consisting of both live action footage, integrated into Hanna-Barbera directed animation. 

The sequence begins a short solo dance of the great dancer, Carol Haney, rubbing a lamp. This cuts to Gene Kelly as Sinbad, who accumulates a lamp whilst at an Arabian market. Sure enough, Sinbad rubs the lamp, and out emerges a genie. Sinbad and the Genie enter an Arabian Nights book, where Sinbad battles a giant snake, romances one of the Sultan's harem girls and is chased by the Sultan's guards.

The live action-animation concept in the film was later used by Disney in successful films such as 'Mary Poppins' (1964) and 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' (1971).

Clip from The Snake Dance in 'Sinbad the Sailor'

Did you know...

  • 'Invitation to the Dance' was filmed in 1952, however wasn't released until 1956, as MGM had concerns about the commercial viability of all-dancing no talking film
  • Disney animators provided technical consulting on the blending of live action footage with animation
  • A fourth sequence 'Dance Me A Song', comprised of popular tunes was cut from the final film
  • Gene Kelly had initially wanted to only appear in the fourth segment 'Dance Me A Song', which was cut from the final film - however MGM refused to allow production on the film unless Kelly appeared in each segment
  • Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret attended a screening of film in 1957, on their first visit to the Edinburgh Film Festival

Awards and nominations

  • Golden Bear Winner for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival
  • British Society of Cinematographers nomination for Best Cinematography

Closing remarks

Despite the success and popularity of 'An American in Paris' (1951) and 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952), in my opinion 'Invitation to the Dance' is Kelly's true cinematic masterpiece. I like the way Kelly takes us to places where traditional ballet and theatre cannot. Sadly the film was an epic fail upon its original release - the good news, today 'Invitation to the Dance' is considered to be an important landmark dance film.

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