“Many people do not see a connection between science and dance, but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another.” –Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison holds the distinctive honor of being the first black woman to travel in space. In addition to her many achievements (astronaut, doctor, college professor, recipient of nine doctoral degrees), Ms. Jemison is a dancer. I loved that quote the moment I read it, because it reminded me of Wall-E. That Pixar masterpiece is a lot of things, and the celebration of wide eyed wonder is certainly one of them. Captain McCrea in that film has lived a life lacking in wonder, magic, and discovery, even though he’s in outer space. But suddenly, this ancient ritual, dancing, becomes new again. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition: the computer’s clipped voice using stale, academic terms, Wall-E and Eve’s space dance. Of course, there’s also Thomas Newman’s whimsical score undercutting the whole scene, making it one of the most memorable, visually and sonically.
So that scene, and the film as a whole, is about reclaiming wonder, along with life. I think there’s an imprecise science to dancing. Both are all about joy and wonder. And where can you find these things in abundance? Musicals.
When I was a teenager first discovering classic movies, I fell in love with Fred Astaire. One of my ultimate fantasies is dancing with him in a garden full of moonlight. I like to imagine that I’m Rita Hayworth in You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) or You Were Never Lovelier (1942).
I also like to imagine that I’m Cyd Charisse when she partnered with Fred in Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon (or Cyd in anything).
Fred Astaire’s remarkable agility and elegance made him an ideal partner. He didn’t look like Robert Taylor or Paul Newman. But when you see him glide or tap across floors, walls, and ceilings, his looks really don’t matter. The magic he created with Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon can never be replaced. And even though there’s a stark 23 year age difference between them, you couldn’t trade Fred for a younger model. I think that’s partly what makes his career so impressive. He still had “it” even in his 50s. And this, after he’d announced his retirement!
The Band Wagon is a backstage musical that displays the struggles and joys of putting on a show. Fred plays Tony Hunter, a Broadway star hoping to revitalize his stalled career with a new show written by his friends Lester and Lily Morton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray). Cyd is ballerina Gaby Gerard, his leading lady. Their first meeting doesn’t go well and more friction builds up between them. But eventually they warm to each other and come together in glorious dance.
When I watched The Band Wagon earlier this year, I was most looking forward to “Girl Hunt Ballet.” The entire film however, was better than I could have imagined. I haven’t seen many backstage films, but I know this is one of the greatest. I had only seen two of Cyd’s films prior to this one, a mistake that needed to be corrected immediately. I’ve now seen more, and I’ve been spellbound by her in everything. She and Fred have become especially dear to me this year.
“She came at me in sections, more curves than a scenic railway. She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn’t trust her any farther than I could throw her. She was selling hard but I wasn’t buying.”