On Christmas Day, the BBC put out an hour and a half programme where Darcey Bussell, one of the most famous ballerinas of recent years, flexing her leg muscles again after a few years of retirement. But instead of ballet, she took on recreating four famous dance numbers from the glory days of the movie musical. Just days after the news that the National Film Registry's latest inductees include some "family home movies" of the Nicholas Brothers, tap dancing contemporaries of Fred Astaire, dance experts name-check them here. Bussell's first challenge - and ultimately her biggest - was reenacting Astaire's famous 'Puttin' on the Ritz' number from the otherwise obscure Blue Skies (1946). As the programme progressed, the documentary sections before each filmed performance shortened, so most of the technical issues of adaptating to a vastly different style of dance were included in this first passage. Where classical ballet requires clean, long lines and telegraphed positioning, tap required Bussell to loosen up and bring her body inwards - while redirecting her precision, because Astaire's performances were no less controlled and perfectly choreographed than Bussell's graceful ballet roles.
|Bussell recreates Astaire's 'Puttin' on the Ritz'|
|Bussell stretches out for the Girl Hunt|
Isadora Duncan was a dance revolutionary. The film Isadora doesn't leave you without this knowledge, but ultimately it feels more like knowledge and not feeling - you know it because you have been told, but less because you've witnessed and experienced it. Isadora gets hijacked by Isadora's love life, and while that wouldn't necessarily be a detriment, the script quickly loses the connecting tissue between these romantic tangles and Isadora's dancing. It's there in the passionate encounters with her first lover, Edward Gordon Craig (James Fox), a theatre designer who declares "You see, I invented you". Isadora does dance in these passages, a sprightly expression of her youthful sexuality finally blossoming ("Why did nobody tell me how beautiful men are?"). A sex scene is evocatively intercut with Isadora seemingly dancing on the ceiling (left), an aerially filmed series of movements that vividly suggest the thrill, fear and lust in Isadora's physical reality.
But dance is soon relegated to merely Isadora's career, something she inconsistently maintains through her relationship with Paris Singer (Jason Robards), and away fall the intriguingly filmed dance sequences of the early passages of the film. Late in the film, as Isadora moves to Russia, dance's capacity as a political expression, and moreover a political tool, flares up as an intriguing theme, but still one which blanks on really evoking the feeling of movement. Lost too, is the briefly glimpsed Duncan rehearsing - a friction between the supposed loose heartfelt nature of her dancing style and the idea that she can still rehearse such a thing.
|Isadora's vibrant Russian red confronts an American audience|
Of course, a biopic has to tell the story of a person's life, and Isadora's love affairs were a huge part of her particular existence. But so, too, was dance, and her fame in this area is what makes her specifically interesting as a subject. The ultimate fustiness of Isadora leaves a lingering disappointment that the connections between life and art seemed to fall through the cracks here. Isadora Duncan herself would likely have felt better served by a filmic treatment than was less narrative and more by some sort of 'arty' evocation of the passion and feeling and torture behind her dancing.