Start pointing and flexing those fingers to warm up for our Summertime Digital Dance Quiz, because unless you happen to live in New York, or near one of the festival cities, dance performances are hard to find come summer, so fans tend to lean on the silver screen or the flat one to get their needs met. Little that is new is available on TV in summer, so other family members or roommates ought not to raise strenuous objections to you clicking on “free movies” on your cable menu to find old dance films, or uploading them from Netflix or borrowing them from the public library. Of course, once you light out on the shadowy path of digital dance, certain ghosts are likely to leap out at you. You’ve seen them before. They’re the semi-friendly ones that tend to shape shift into questions about dance that are over-discussed in dance circles, and largely ignored or discounted by everyone else. Here are a few of them. Please post your responses in the comments section at the end of the blog.
Was Turning Point a cornball family movie or a great mid-century dance film?
Is the artistic director in The Red Shoes the archetype for all his real-life successors?
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ray Bolger, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds amazed their viewing audiences. Who among them was most difficult to work with?
Did Ginger Rodgers have or not have turnout?
Which was more important to you in Billy Elliot—the dancing or the plot?
Did Natalie Portman deserve to win an Oscar for Black Swan because in one year and a half years she lost 25 pounds and, with Benjamin Millepied’s coaching, developed credible port de bras?
Were Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron underrated as dancers?
Was it fair that Jerome Robbins was fired from his job as choreographer of West Side Story, a movie in which the male dancers bear no resemblance to any New York gang member, living or dead?
Is it worth watching John Turturro slog through his crass knockoff of Groucho Marx shtick in Brain Donors, just to see the final twenty minutes of a riotously whacky Swan Lake parody by George de la Peña as the insufferable Volare?
Does Dirty Dancing win out over all comers for the best popular dance/romance movie of all time?
Does any dance film’s photographic work and direction match Carlos Saura’s of Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos’s virtuosic flamenco dancing in Blood Wedding?
If you have seen Ballet Russes, is that a guarantee that in three years you will remember or be able to pronounce the names of the Baby Ballerinas?
Is Busby Berkeley a total sellout to the industrial age, or a choreographic genius?
Can the movie version of A Chorus Line remotely compare to the stage production?
Do you believe that students at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts actually danced on the tops of cars driving down 46th Street, as seen in Fame?
Has there ever been a film made about an individual choreographer that equals Pina?
Were the performances by Roy Scheider and Ben Vereen in All That Jazz two of the best in a dance film?
How many of the unidentified dance figures can you name in the film La danse—Le ballet de l’Opera de Paris?
Whose style in Chicago do you prefer: Renée Zellweger’s or Catherine Zeta Jones’s?
Is Bunheads a vast improvement over dance reality shows, even if Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop reprise that grating and (in Foster’s case) overly mannered, mostly un-funny, cerebral verbal jousting that was tantamount to a dentist drilling when you heard it in Gilmore Girls?
Are Joel Grey and Liza Minelli in Cabaret the best overall triple-threat team in a movie, any movie?
Here are the dance films and TV shows you may want to check out in order to form, not to mention inform your opinions:
Flying Down to Rio
The Red Shoes
Singing in the Rain
On the Town
All That Jazz
Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
Singin’ in the Rain
West Side Story
An American in Paris
All That Jazz
La danse—le ballet de l’Opera de Paris
Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,” CriticalDance.com, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”
Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.