Starstruck – Ballet in a prologue, three acts and an epilogue after Gene Kelly’s Pas de Dieux
Star Ballerina / Aphrodite – Sophie Martin
Choreographer / Zeus – Christopher Harrison
Pianist / Eros – Bruno Micchiardi
Sweetheart / Girl with the Pony Tail – Roseanna Leney
Sweetheart / Lifeguard – Javier Andreu
Stagehand – Nicholas Shoesmith
Choreography – Gene Kelly / Christopher Hampson
Music – Frederick Chopin and George Gershwin
Design – Lez Brotherston
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 16 October, 2021
Venue: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
The great dancer Gene Kelly created only one stage ballet despite his many on-screen successes: Pas de Dieux premiered at the Opéra de Paris in 1960, but despite early approval, it quickly disappeared from the repertoire due, in part no doubt, to its tongue-in-cheek approach and attempts to bring Broadway pizzazz to the Palais Garnier. Despite the impression given by Scottish Ballet, it has been revived since then: Eric Vu Ann (director of Ballet Nice Méditerranée) called upon Claude Bessy, the original Aphrodite, to stage it for his company in 2013, and its last revival there took place in 2019. For Scottish, director Christopher Hampson has front-ended Gene Kelly’s choreography with his own prologue set back stage in a ballet rehearsal room where company members slowly transform into the characters of the main work. Renamed Starstruck, this hour-long work represents the company’s return to live performance, although it is to be regretted that the music was recorded rather than played live by the company orchestra.
In truth, some of Hampson’s work on the ballet seems a little unnecessary, given that a version exists which has been staged by a member of the original cast. The programme for Starstruck outlines the work Hampson and Kelly’s widow did in deciphering the choreographer’s annotations to his score of George Gershwin’s music (Concerto in F), even though a performing edition already existed. Still, even if Hampson’s additions and new libretto do not jar in themselves, they serve to muddle the narrative of Pas de Dieux which allows Aphrodite, Zeus and Eros to experience the joys of bathing on the Côte d’Azur and Parisian nightlife.
Lez Brotherston’s new designs offer more than a nod to the originals by André François, and he demonstrates his real understanding of costumes for dancers which comes from his longtime collaboration with Matthew Bourne, amongst others, and the backstage setting allows for multiple changes of scene with judicious use of projections. Scottish Ballet’s dancers engage enthusiastically in what they are asked to do, even if they have a slightly anonymous quality which is down mostly to Kelly’s choreography and concept. The named parts were all danced with verve, not least Sophie Martin’s chic Star Ballerina, but even she does not smoulder as Aphrodite. Christopher Harrison’s Choreographer/Zeus is most certainly both an excellent partner and a strong dancer, but he projected almost no character and his reconciliation pas de deux with Martin was seriously short on passion; projection of character was left to Bruno Micchiardi as the Pianist/Eros who fizzed with personality and executed Kelly’s demi-caractère gambolings with ease even if he did not quite convince in his camp shimmies.
Kelly’s choreography has been described as his love letter to ballet and one cannot fail to note that he was classically-trained and almost became a ballet dancer before finding fame on film. He clearly understood the form and the choreography is at its strongest in the earlier scenes; as it progresses, the Broadway influence increases and jazz hands and Fosse-like movement take over. The characters which were carefully established early on seem to melt away and Kelly gives us more of a dance spectacular by the end; it is, frankly, far less interesting.
Starstruck marks the welcome return of the company to live performance, and Hampson has prepared some interesting work for it later in the season (not least a cut-down version of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling), but in itself it is a slight affair.