The gods were not smiling upon Scottish Ballet for the press night of their latest work, Starstruck, based on Gene Kelly’s short ballet Pas de Dieux. This is ironic, perhaps, as the choreography by the great American dancer and actor is set among the deities of ancient Greek mythology.
With Zeus, Aphrodite and Eros on stage (or, at least, waiting in the wings), and Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly in the audience, the opening scene of the ballet was plagued by the flickering of an errant computer graphic. After a few minutes of principal dancer Evan Loudon soldiering valiantly on, the curtain came down and artistic director Christopher Hampson (who had made an introductory speech just moments before) returned to the stage to beg our patience while the technical glitch was fixed.
After a short delay, the show began again, from the top, and it soon became clear why it was so crucial that the computer projections be sorted out. Starstruck, which brings together Kelly’s original choreography with an additional concept and movement by Hampson, makes tremendous use of video imagery: Aphrodite, telescope in hand, surveys a coastline by way of projected images; the gods surf the heavens by the same means.
Pas de Dieux (a wry play on “pas de deux” that translates literally as “No Gods”) premiered at the Palais Garnier in Paris in 1960. The piece follows Aphrodite and Eros as they descend on a French beach to play havoc with the romance between a lifeguard and his girlfriend.
Hampson places this story within the frame of an imagined ballet company as they rehearse Kelly’s work for performance in Paris. The initial scenes are danced to music by Chopin, which stands in delightful juxtaposition to George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, to which Kelly set his choreography.
In this new, introductory opening, we see the dancers arriving for their rehearsal, and, within that, the romances, friendships, jealousies and animosities that exist within the company. This being 1960, the whole thing has the visual aesthetic of 1950s Americana – particularly splendid in the later scene in which tensions between two of the male dancers boil over into a fight that looks like a collision between West Side Story and an Edward Hopper painting.
Kelly’s choreography works in perfect partnership with Gershwin’s fantastic score, which, like so much of his music, is quintessentially of New York City. The movement is a joyful melding of traditional ballet with the dance of the jazz age. At one point, the motifs of the dance crazes of the famously “roaring” Twenties segue into a pas de deux which is, by turns, gloriously graceful, impressively energetic and memorably statuesque.
Hampson’s production has a tremendous grasp of the lightness, the style and, importantly, the humour of Kelly’s ballet, and his universally excellent dancers have entirely embraced his innovations. The outcome is an enthralling hour of deliciously unconventional ballet.
Touring Scotland until October 16. Tickets and details: scottishballet.co.uk