RSS

Cyd Charisse in the “Gotta Dance!” Blogathon

25 May

GottaDance_CydGeneClassic Reel Girl is hosting the Gotta Dance! Blogathon today – which is the birthday of Bill Robinson as well as National Tap Dance Day – and I am thrilled to be participating in this celebration of the dance in film by offering a tribute and meditation on the unique talent and beauty of Cyd Charisse.

I have been reading about movie musicals recently and in one article Cyd Charisse was described as “stiff” and in a book she was called “cool,” two words that would never have occurred to me to use to describe her dancing (though perhaps her acting). Interestingly, both comments were made in relation to her dance partnership with Fred Astaire and I’ve discovered that devoted Fred Astaire aficionados are not always as enamored of Charisse as they are of some of his other partners (namely Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth).

The reason this is, I believe, is the nature of her dancing. Cyd Charisse is primarily a ballet dancer and although Fred Astaire didn’t care for ballet, it’s influences can still be seen in his dances with her. In ballet, often the man is there to hold the ballerina up and make her look good. Fred Astaire obviously does much more than that, but it is true that in a certain way Cyd Charisse complements Astaire less than say Ginger Rogers or Rita Hayworth. Rather, he complements her and her style of dancing.

Gene Kelly, on the other hand, was almost better at ballet than tap (as Brian Seibert, author of What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing argues convincingly) and he was interested in expressing himself balletically, making his dances with Cyd Charisse seem more natural to him, though I must confess that I still prefer her collaboration with Astaire, despite those films being less typical of his style. I think the reason is the same reason that Fred Astaire aficionados don’t care for her as much (apart from the fact that she didn’t do any tap dancing).

Usually, a Fred Astaire dance is how he does his wooing. Ginger Rogers resists him until they dance and then you knew her attitude towards him has changed. Not so much with Gene Kelly. He seems to have been more interesting in expressing himself through dance. This means that the lady he is dancing with is not doing as much besides helping him express whatever thought or feeling he is having. The big ballet sequence in An American in Paris has nothing to do with winning the girl (she already loves him, but she’s engaged). It’s more about him working out his internal conflict.

1953: Fred Astaire (1899 - 1987) and Cyd Charisse perform a dance routine in the film 'The Band Wagon', directed by Vincente Minnelli for MGM.It’s the same with the dream sequence in Singin’ in the Rain, which he dances with Cyd Charisse. She’s fantastic as a Louise Brooks-type vamp, but you don’t get the sense you really know her. And that brings me to Cyd Charisse and what she often expresses through her dancing. As an actress, she is indeed somewhat “cool” and “stiff,” enigmatic, aloof and almost unknowable. But when she dances, she comes alive and suddenly, you feel, she is showing the real person inside.

As I said, I’m not sure Gene Kelly brings this out as much, even in Brigadoon (though their dancing is beautiful), but Fred Astaire does, especially in Silk Stockings, which is almost more of a showcase for Charisse than it is Astaire. “All of You” is not just about Fred Astaire wooing through dance, but drawing out the highly controlled Ninotchka and cajoling her into dancing. For her, it is a liberation, a coming alive and expressing herself in the way she is meant to instead of burying it under austere rhetoric and party solidarity. The film also features the lovely dance where Ninotchka has hidden silk stockings, a corset, a hat and other feminine items of dress around her room and it is a moment of self-discovery for her.

On a side note: it’s a testament to what a gracious and unassuming dancer Fred Astaire was – though a perfectionist and 100% committed to his art – that he could adapt himself to whoever his dance partner happened to be (even Burns and Allen or Joan Fontaine).

Another frequent dance partner for Cyd Charisse was Ricardo Montalban. They danced together in five movies, all of which had totally inconsequential plots, but nevertheless contained some real dance delights. Because the dances are not integrated into the plot, they don’t reveal much about the characters, but that doesn’t dint one’s enjoyment because Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban really seem to be enjoying themselves and each other. Montalban was not a dancer, but he possessed a natural athleticism and grace and he and Charisse generate a good amount of spark.

In another film – actually a Margaret O’Brien film, The Unfinished Dance – the entire arc of Cyd Charisse’s character is how she discovers that dancing is her life (and consequently her identity) and she dumps her fiance at the end so she can become fully committed to ballet. In another film – Meet Me in Las Vegas – much of the conflict between her and Dan Dailey is that she cannot give up ballet and he cannot give up his ranch. Ultimately, they compromise. But these are examples of how closely her characters are identified with dance. Without it, she almost doesn’t exist as a character.

cyd-charisse-in-silkesstrumpan-(1957)-large-pictureMy sister did ballet for many years and she has a lot of opinions about what constitutes good dancing. For her, one of the signs of skilled dancing is control. Buster Keaton had perfect control (though not a dancer). His body never did anything he didn’t want it to do and it’s the same with Cyd Charisse. As marvelous as Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth are as partners for Fred Astaire, you don’t want to look too closely at their arms, leg kicks or spins (which is a move that always gives the show away –  I took tap for seven years and profoundly sucked at spins).

But control is not “stiff.” There were few dancers more sexy than Cyd Charisse and in her case, perfect body control merely indicated reserves of sexiness, making her dances all the more potent. There never was anyone quite like her. She could do ballet and jazz (how she could do jazz!) and was so sensational, I’d watch an inferior movie, just to see her in one dance.

Be sure to read all the rest of the entries in today’s celebration of dance. Thanks again to Classic Reel Girl for hosting this wonderful event!

Below are some examples of Cyd Charisse. I tried to pick dances that were less known, which is why I omitted the sublime The Band Wagon.

“All of You” is the first dance between Astaire and Charisse in Silk Stockings. They discuss love (she maintains it’s a chemical reaction) and he can’t seem to make any headway until he starts dancing. The dance begins around the 5:30 mark.

And here is the lovely dance where she first puts on silk stockings in Silk Stockings.

From On An Island With You – the plot is barely there, but there are two lovely dances with Montalban and Charisse, as well as a few aquatic dances with Esther Williams.

Another example of a fun dance stuck in the middle of a film (Fiesta) for no other reason than it is fun.

Once again, in It’s Always Fair Weather Cyd Charisse loosens up through dance – though her love interest, Gene Kelly, is not present (how did those two not have a dance together in this film!). When Kelly first meets her, she seems like the ultimate, stereotypical career woman ice-queen and here she reveals herself to be far more accessible and grounded than he supposed.

Advertisements
 
32 Comments

Posted by on May 25, 2016 in Movies

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

32 responses to “Cyd Charisse in the “Gotta Dance!” Blogathon

  1. Michaela

    May 25, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Wonderful post! You made a very good point about Astaire vs. Kelly — I’m noticing more and more that Fred was more willing to adapt and make his partner look good, whereas Kelly liked to be the center of attention (Fred was a really modest man, after all). I’m not saying this in malice, I love Gene Kelly like crazy, but it is what it is.

    Like you, I’d watch any film that has Charisse dancing. She consistently amazes me, and although she wasn’t the next Garbo or Hepburn or whoever, I’d wager her dancing was just as authentic as their acting performances ever were.

    Liked by 2 people

     
    • christinawehner

      May 25, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      That is a wonderful point about her dancing being as authentic as their acting! You’re right – she never seems to get stuck in a dancing rut and there always seems to be fresh delights in seeing her in a new dance.

      Oh yes, I love Gene Kelly, too (he was my first tap dancing love), but as you say, it is interesting to see the differences between them. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated Fred Astaire’s modesty until I started thinking about Cyd Charisse.

      Like

       
    • Gina

      May 25, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      Okay, I enjoyed your post, but I just have to speak up for Gene. 🙂 Or better yet, I’ll let Cyd herself speak up for him. She wrote in her autobiography: “As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan‘s help, creates fabulous numbers — for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else …”

      And if you compare their filmographies, it’s absolutely true. In Gene’s movies everyone gets a chance to shine. As for Fred — I’m not dissing him, I love him, but let’s not pretend he didn’t love that spotlight. In ten Rogers & Astaire movies, do you know how many solo numbers Ginger got? One. Do you know how many Fred got? Thirteen.

      The defense rests.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • christinawehner

        May 25, 2016 at 10:16 pm

        It’s wonderful to hear your case! I didn’t mean to imply that Gene Kelly wasn’t inventive or selfish. I meant more that his dances (which definitely allow people to shine) didn’t always reveal or develop the character of those he was dancing with (perhaps more specifically of those he was dancing romantically with) because of how he used dance and his interest in psychological expression.

        With Fred Astaire, I feel we can learn more about the woman he is dancing with by how she dances and responds to him (like Cyd Charisse, who feels like a more fully developed character in her dances with Astaire) and that he was good at matching his style to whoever he was dancing with. I understand what you are saying about Ginger Rogers (though I’m not sure she quite had the dancing skills to pull off a solo).

        I think their skills were different. Gene Kelly could and world choreograph for a group, while Fred Astaire choreography his own dances, but I believe their respective approaches changed how someone like Cyd Charisse came across character-wise.

        Like

         
        • Gina

          May 26, 2016 at 10:07 am

          I confess to being a bit thin-skinned where Gene is concerned. 🙂 Thanks for letting me speak my piece.

          And I meant to say before, I really appreciate your defense of Cyd against the charge of being too stiff and cool. I can’t believe anyone could think that of her after watching her dance! But I hope some of those who are so misguided will see your piece and reconsider! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • christinawehner

            May 26, 2016 at 10:42 am

            Thank you! And I am so glad you made your case! You have helped me clarify what I meant to say and given me a wider perspective on their respective.

            Yes, I was a bit taken aback when I read the words “stiff,” too. Couldn’t speak, for a moment. 🙂 It seems like no one could drape themselves around a guy while dancing better than Cyd Charisse.

            Like

             
            • Gina

              May 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm

              Hear, hear! 🙂

              Like

               
  2. Simoa

    May 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    What a lovely post for a lovely lady. I don’t know much about dance or styles of dance, but I agree with you, Cyd did come alive when she was dancing. And that’s so true about The Unfinished Dance and Meet Me in Las Vegas.

    “There were few dancers more sexy than Cyd Charisse and in her case, perfect body control merely indicated reserves of sexiness, making her dances all the more potent. There never was anyone quite like her.” Yes!

    I can’t wait to see more of her dances with Ricardo Montalban too.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 25, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you! Her dances with Ricardo Montalban are such a joy! He complements her well and they truly look like a team together and not just one person supporting the other.

      Like

       
  3. Bonnie

    May 25, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Divine post. I very much enjoyed reading your analysis of Astaire’s versus Kelly’s use of dance in relation to their characters. I love Fred, but Cyd’s dancing is breathtaking. She’s in a league of her own, and like you, I would watch an inferior film just to watch her dance. Thank you for participating in the blogathon!
    Bonnie =)

    Like

     
    • christinawehner

      May 25, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Thank you for hosting! It was a joy to participate!

      Breathtaking is the perfect word for her. You’re right, I’m not sure there is anyone else who does so with dance quite like she does

      Like

       
  4. Keisha

    May 25, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Love your post on Cyd Charisse! You bring up some great points regarding her partnerships with Gene Kelly and especially Fred Astaire. I haven’t seen Brigadoon yet, but I think I do prefer her partnership with Astaire, though that might just be because they seemed to do more dancing together in their two films vs. the three she did with Kelly (a real shame they didn’t dance together in It’s Always Fair Weather!).

    And I love that you included some of the dances she did with Ricardo Montalbán. I not really fond of On an Island with You, but their dances together really saved the film for me.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 25, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      Yeah, I know what you mean about On an Island with You. Usually, I skip straight to the dances. 🙂 Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a DVD that only contained all Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban’s dances together?

      I wonder why they decided not to have Charisse and Kelly dance together in It’s Always Fair Weather? That’s a good point; I never thought about it, but Astaire and Charisse do feel like they dance a lot more together than Charisse and Kelly, (though they dance quite a bit in Brigadoon, but it still feels less than Astaire and Charisse).

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Keisha

        May 26, 2016 at 4:50 pm

        I’m sure they must have planned to have them dance together and it just didn’t work out? I’d have to look into it more, but I know Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen had some disagreements about things, which resulted in them ending their film partnership and friendship sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • Gina

          May 26, 2016 at 7:56 pm

          They did film a duet, but alas, it was cut. But you can see it here!

          The sound is missing from the dialogue part of the sequence, for some reason. But at least there’s sound for the song, which is great, because it was missing too for a while!

          Liked by 2 people

           
          • christinawehner

            May 26, 2016 at 8:22 pm

            That’s awesome! Thanks! I never knew this footage existed. That’s gotta be the first time I’ve seen her do anything resembling some tap moves.

            I was always puzzled about the absence of a dance between the two of them. This makes more sense that one was planned.

            Like

             
          • Keisha

            May 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm

            Wow thanks so much for sharing this!

            Like

             
        • christinawehner

          May 26, 2016 at 8:16 pm

          That is too bad they fell out. They were an incredible team – so glad we have their joint work!

          Liked by 1 person

           
  5. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    May 25, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Loved your appreciation of the phenomenal Cyd Charisse, and your expertise in the area of dance and performance. It all came together for a thought-provoking and entertaining article.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Thank you! It has been such a delight to explore the dances of Cyd Charisse (though my sister is the true expert on all-things ballet).

      Like

       
  6. Vienna

    May 25, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Wonderful post. I’ve never been able to describe dancing moves but you certainly have.
    I’ve always thought Cyd was Fred’s best partner . I know you left out Band Wagon but she is sensational in it.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 26, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Yes, I so agree; she was amazing in Band Wagon! It might be her best film?

      Like

       
  7. jennifromrollamo

    May 26, 2016 at 4:56 am

    Cyd and Ricardo dancing together?? I had no clue this ever happened! I must seek out their films where this dancing happened!!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 26, 2016 at 9:44 am

      I know – it is pretty unexpected that they made so many movies together! Most of the films have pretty slight plots (thought I haven’t seen them all yet – many of the dances I have seen came via youtube). Fiesta is improbable – Montalban and Esther Williams play twins! – but I have a real weakness for it and there are two sensational dances Montalban and Charisse do together.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Michaela

        May 26, 2016 at 9:58 am

        If I may add on to that, Charisse and Montalban also dance together in The Kissing Bandit, a weak musical with Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. Oddly enough, Montalban and Charisse only pop up for this one number… which they do with Ann Miller, too! It has nothing to do with the film’s plot, so you don’t need any context if you want to see it on YouTube.

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          May 26, 2016 at 10:07 am

          Oh fascinating! I wonder if the filmmakers knew it was a weak plot and so added the dance to spice things up a little. I think I have seen that dance, though I didn’t realize it was from The Kissing Bandit. Thanks!

          Like

           
  8. Silver Screenings

    May 26, 2016 at 11:10 am

    I agree that she isn’t one of the great actors, but she really is a mesmerizing dancer. I think she’s one of my faves – to use an old cliché, she is poetry in motion.

    About Fred Astaire: I know he wasn’t perfect, but the more I learn about his career, the more I admire him. You can’t say that about every performer…

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 26, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Sometimes those cliches do say it best!

      Yes, I know what you mean about Astaire – he seems like the ultimate professional.

      Like

       
  9. Virginie Pronovost

    May 26, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Cyd really had THE legs. She was an amazing and so elegant dancer, but I really need to see more of her film! Thanks for this great article 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 26, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Oh yes, her LEGS are amazing! No on like her! Some of her films don’t have the best of plots, but her dances are always so worthwhile. Hope you get a change to check some out and enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. May 27, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Although Cyd and Fred are lovely in Dancing in the Dark, I agree that she is better with Gene Kelly. Their dancing is superb in Brigadoon! I had never seen her dancing with Montalban, but the clip from Fiesta is very good.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      May 27, 2016 at 10:34 am

      Brigadoon is such a lovely film – lyrical dancing! She and Ricardo Montalban do make an unexpected dancing duo, don’t they? I only stumbled across their dances because I was watching some Esther Williams films, but it was like a huge bonus! 🙂

      Like

       

What Are Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: