While our staff and dancers work from home, our Major Gifts Officer Jackson Cooper has found this time to catch up on his second favorite thing: movies (PNB will always be his first!). Here, Jackson shares his favorite dance moments in movie musicals.
Since performances at PNB are at a halt, it’s still possible to see great dance on your screens at home. Even if you missed our stunning broadcast of One Thousand Pieces, there is still hope! Enjoy my favorite moments from classic Hollywood that should make you smile, perhaps shake about a bit!
Did we miss your favorite moment? Be sure to share your favorite dance moments in the comments and tag us on social media.
11. Girl Hunt Ballet from The Band Wagon
Okay, I’m cheating a bit but I simply couldn’t leave off Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
Astaire would always learn his routine, practice it until it was perfect, and then practice it again until it looked effortless. In The Band Wagon, his effortlessness is shown off with immensely rewarding results. In a moment inspired by old gangster films, Astaire is joined by the fierce Cyd Charisse, a dynamic dame in red who—in my opinion—wipes the floor with Astaire, outshining him in technique and charisma. Michael Jackson was inspired by this particular sequence, imitating some of the choreography and Astaire’s costume in his music video for “Smooth Criminal”.
PNB fans who watch this may find similarities in this and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, another gangster-inspired ballet sequence featured in a musical.
10. Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing
Well, okay now, come on. No one puts baby in a corner, let alone I could not leave out such an iconic scene as this. Who hasn’t wanted Patrick Swayze to lift them in front of a crowded audience in the Catskills?
9. The Way You Make Me Feel from Center Stage
Hollywood and ballet’s relationship has flourished thanks to the generous crossovers many ballerinas and dancers make. In 2000’s Center Stage, SF Ballet dancer Amanda Schull stars as one of several trainees in New York’s American Ballet Academy, hoping to become the country’s next ballet breakout star. In the scene above, ballet and 90s angst clash hard…and we mean hard, we’re talking tuts and leather jackets. It’s a bit cheesy but you can’t say you weren’t smiling through it the whole time.
(P.S. Center Stage is currently on Netflix if you need to watch the entire movie now.)
8. America from West Side Story
PNB celebrated Jerome Robbins during his centennial year in a loving tribute so we would be remiss not to add the master of crossover on this list. Robbins touched every avenue of commercial dance: Broadway, ballet, and Hollywood.
With West Side Story, the game changed for all three and Robbins, once only known in the New York arts circle, became a household name. It is Robbins’ choreography, which perfectly complements Leonard Bernstein’s lush score, that is remembered best from the film: from its opening street dancing scene to the dance at the gym to this personal favorite: a battle of the sexes tied together nicely by a young Stephen Sondheim’s witty lyrics. Very few actresses since have been able to replicate the lovable sass Rita Moreno delivers with a sharp tongue and a warm smile. Steven Spielberg’s remake of this film, with choreography by PNB favorite Justin Peck, will be released Christmas 2020.
7. The Audition from All That Jazz
Sam Rockwell brought to life Bob Fosse so brilliantly in FX’s series Fosse/Verdon that, for a time, people neglected to remember All That Jazz. Fosse himself wrote, directed, and choreographed the semi-autobiographical film about a chain smoking, womanizing Broadway choreographer grappling with his life and career as he consults the Angel of Death (American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange). It’s an incredible film to watch but equal parts depressing and brilliant. The opening sequence, a cattle call for the director’s next stage venture, displays the full spectrum of emotions auditions bring. Enhanced by its soundtrack and editing, Fosse gives us an immediate, deeply personal look into what it feels like to be “just another face in the crowd”.
6. Prove Me Wrong from White Nights
Mikhail Baryshnikov enjoyed his short ride in Hollywood earning himself everything from critical acclaim to top box office billing to an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Turning Point. His dance with tap dance legend Gregory Hines was a defining moment in dance film, as two masters of their own crafts interpreted the same moves in two distinct ways. Later in interviews, Baryshnikov would praise Hines for the challenges tap dancing is for a ballet dancer while Haines would praise Baryshnikov’s precision and passion—the latter something that tap dance often could not embody the way ballet did.
5. Good Morning from Singin’ In The Rain
Gene Kelly was nothing but a stickler for getting it right. According to Debbie Reynolds, this sequence was filmed over 20+ times. By the end of it, her feet were bleeding so bad the shoes kept falling off, hence why Kelly decided to cease filming. In the end, they used the first take of the entire sequence.
4. Barn Dance from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Jacques D’Amboise of New York City Ballet is among one of the “colorful” brothers, a group of men made up of half-professional MGM movie dancers and half-classically trained ballet dancers. The sequence, choreographed by Michael Kidd, is notable for going against the grain of a typical movie musical number, namely that there aren’t set “moves” that are repeated, no chorus lines or showgirls kicking their heels, no razzle dazzle. Rather, all the dance contributes to the plot and characters of the film, creating conflict and deepening each character’s personalities. Kind of like a ballet…..
3. Choreography from White Christmas
Oh Danny Kaye, we do not deserve you. Where other moments of the film are more praised, I particularly like this sequence due to its loving parody of what was then considered “modern dance”. Note that Kaye and his dancers are dressed in Martha Graham-like attire and the music sounds coincidentally very similar to Stravinsky.
2. Rich Man’s Frug from Sweet Charity
Fosse is all about isolation of muscles, of the body moving in ways that aren’t possible…except in a Fosse number. He was strict on the dancers he cast, famously firing people on the spot if hip movements were wrong or wrist flicks were half a beat off. According to Fosse regular Gwen Verdon he once spent two hours having the ensemble perfect finger wagging for a song. Those dancers who made the cut were the ones he captures (and preserved) in his films and this sequence is but scratching the surface of what genius this perfectionist could create.*
*Head over to PNB Dancer Dylan Wald’s Instagram for he and company member Elle Macy excerpting this dance
1. The Red Shoes Ballet from The Red Shoes
There was before The Red Shoes and after The Red Shoes. This sometimes overlooked masterpiece provided the basis for films like Black Swan and so many others where artists are caught between love and their work. This particular sequence begins as a storybook telling of the Hans Christen Andersen fairy tale by the same name, quickly spiraling into a hallucinatory nightmare of desire and temptation as the central ballerina Victoria Page’s concentration falters dramatically.
It perfectly captures the paradox of control in art: as much as an artist works to be in control of a piece, it is best when you let go of that control in performance to let something magical in.
Missing Saturday Night Fever? Save the Last Dance? La La Land? Comment below on your favorite dance scenes in films! Happy dancing!