Wednesday, July 6

Starstruck – Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Think of postmodernism and you won’t think of actor and dancer Gene Kelly, though his life and his work exists simultaneously to the peak years of the movement. In 1960, during the movement’s height, Kelly was lured to Paris to bring his trademark moves of the Hollywood movie scene to the world of ballet. The result was his pioneering work, ‘Pas Die Dieux.’ 61 years later, Scottish Ballet and Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly have brought this stellar piece of work back to the stage for it’s UK debut with a beguiling new twist.  It’s simultaneously lavish, entrancing, and as the kids would say, ‘pretty meta’.

Kelly’s original ballet, ‘Pas Die Dieux’ focused on the classical tale of Aphrodite and Zeus and the trials and tribulations that they face on Mount Olympus. In the ballet’s new imagining, Starstruck, our Zeus and Aphrodite, are the Star Ballerina and choreographer of the production. We witness their trials and tribulations in the studio as well and on stage in their respective roles. This metafictional reimaging is steeped in symbolism; the repopulation of the rehearsal space after the lockdowns of Covid-19, the parallels between life and art, and of course the mirror to Gene Kelly, who too excelled on stage and in the rehearsal space, not to mention the famous parallels to his work Singing in The Rain where backstage and onstage drama drive the narrative. The artistic vision is simply incredible.

The use of the onstage/offstage narrative framing opens up numerous opportunities for new dance numbers in Kelly’s fusion style. Artistic Director’s Christopher Hampson’s newly created epilogue is a triumph- a masterclass not only in choreography, but in stagecraft and movement. Energy levels are high as the stage is filled with dancers in various stages of rehearsal, where carefully coordinated choreography stylises the dancer’s behaviour in the rehearsal space so well it blurs the line between spontaneous real life, and art.  If only all directors achieved this level of marvellous movement in productions of any kind! Here the choreography blooms like a flower and sets the precedent for the rest of the production.

Principals Evan Louden and Marge Hendrick who led the ballet as Zeus/Choreographer and Aphrodite/Star Ballerina. Entirely alone, they could carry the ballet.  But the performance really hits the spot in the big dance numbers, when the whole ensemble is beating the boards, each stamp in perfect unison. Yes, this ballet is glitzy, glamorous and very playful, but the celebration of Hollywood musical dance styles and ballet is delivered with military precision.

Can there be any fault? Yes. We miss the live orchestra immensely. The music is superbly recorded by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, but we feel robbed that they are not in the pit. For any ballet, a live orchestra is as important to creating mood and energy as the dancers themselves. We’ll forgive Scottish Ballet for this, but only this once.

From complex symbolism to the expert melding of new choreography with Gene Kelly’s spectacular vision, this ballet manages to cram it all in, in a mere 60 minutes. And somehow manages to please everyone too. From your ballet aficionados looking to tick a production off their bucket list, to those who have never seen en pointe before, you are sure to be starstruck.

This production finished its run on Saturday 16th October. However, it will be available to stream from the 26th November to the 5th December. https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/starstruck

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: Saturday 16th October

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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