Video: Video Finds: Dance — The Girl Hunt |
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Video Finds: Dance — The Girl Hunt

Appearing as a triumphant coda to the 1953 MGM musical The Band Wagon, its closing number “The Girl Hunt” is one of the supreme showcases for the phenomenon called Cyd Charisse. (Actually she was called Tula Ellice Finklea, but we tend to forget that.) Among Fred Astaire’s dance partners on screen, Charisse ranked near the top, although, like Rita Hayworth, she usually had to dance in flat shoes: Astaire was never quite comfortable if he had to look up to make eye contact. With Ginger Rogers he was in his element, and the Hermes Pan choreography was always shot from front-on in a few long, apparently simple takes that you never noticed. But Astaire was just as good when he was out of his element, with the camera behaving as if it shared top billing. In The Band Wagon Vincente Minnelli’s crane shots would have been unthinkable in one of the old RKO musicals, but here they seem exactly right, and the fluently linked perspectives flatter Astaire’s mobility while giving us a few more angles from which to examine the way Charisse was lyrically at her ease even when strutting out the rhythm. The choreography is by Michael Kidd, a star dancer on his own account. At the time of writing, YouTube is screening an excerpt with an abrupt start and finish, but a more expansive version of the number will probably show up eventually, and by then the suddenly ravenous new viewer will have already found the DVD and started wearing it out. The whole movie is a marvel, with the possible exception of the ballet sequence. By the 1950s the best American show numbers had already left ballet looking undernourished, but even so canny a producer as Arthur Freed, the man behind the MGM musicals at their dazzling peak, was slow to let go of the old hierarchy of forms. He would stick a ballet in there somewhere, as if to prove that the jazzier stuff was the work of serious minds. But it didn’t need proving. It only needed watching.

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