Today I saw a film entitled The Lovers. Overall, I enjoyed this film--it was an odd take on infidelity in a long-term marriage and the havoc that can wreak. However, one character had a career as a dancer. She taught ballet classes as well as choreographed and performed modern pieces.
The trouble is, the actress portraying that character couldn't dance--at all. The scene in which she taught a children's ballet class included a wonky foot devoid of turnout or proper point. Her arms were weak and awkward. I don't think the actress had ever hear of attitude as it pertains to dance movement. Later, when she is performing a piece, she moves the same way someone doing an at-home dance video might--amateurish and unsure.
The above dance critiques are just fine if you are doing an at-home dance video, or goofing off, or even just enjoying yourself in whatever capacity that may be. But a character whose entire career revolves around dance should be able to dance.
After watching The Lovers and complaining for the last several months about the (lack of) dance skill in La La Land, I've about had it with the sheer disregard for dance in film.
Say it with me: Dance is not simply a string of movements. Dance is art. Dance is passion. Dance is feeling. Dance is poetry in motion. Dance is your heart.
Film has a rich history of phenomenal dance and so the modern trend of including dance that is simply atrocious is disheartening, abysmal, and unacceptable. Sure, not every actress is a Debbie Reynolds who can star in Singin' in the Rain after hardly ever dancing before it and come out the end with enough song and dance skill to do even more Hollywood musicals. However, not being Debbie Reynolds doesn't excuse a cast, director, choreographer, etc. from ensuring the dancing included in film is quality--plenty of people can dance and act.
The original talkies struggled--they included syncing mishaps, terrible acting, recording problems, etc. Musicals aided in the development of quality talking pictures.
Warner Brothers' 42nd Street (1933) adapted Broadway style to fit a new medium and allowed for creativity in choreography not necessarily possible on stage. The success of this film rescued Warner Brothers from bankruptcy
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is likely most recognized for his appearances in films alongside Shirley Temple. His dance skill was unsurpassed by most of his white dance peers, and while he made a successful career for himself both on Broadway and in film, his portrayals were limited by the epic racism of his time.
The work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is complemented by that of Eleanor Powell, the Nicholas Brothers, and others. Musical pictures provided an avenue of hope and release from the stark realities of Depression Era America.
Gene Kelly. My heart belongs to Gene and his magic feet. The films in which he held a great amount of artistic control included choreography that transcended what had before been seen in film musicals. He combined theatre, ballet, modern, tap, ballroom and had the utmost skill and creativity.
Funny Face might not include the best choreography Fred Astaire has ever crafted, but it does include one of my favorite dance scenes of all time, starring the venerable Audrey Hepburn.
Below is an example of magnificent dance in film, featuring Vera Ellen in White Christmas.
Below is an example of sad, embarrassing dancing featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. Not only is the dance skill lacking, but the choreography itself is weak--perhaps in an attempt to accommodate Gosling and Stone's ineptitude in dance.
Admittedly, the film musical began to lose its popularity eventually and so the "triple threat" required of actors and actresses became less of a resume feature. However, that does not mean dance included in film gets a free pass for being terrible. For example, the closing number in The Artist (2011) might not be at the same level of Astaire, Kelly, Robinson, and the others, but it nonetheless features excellent dancing. AND it won and was nominated for several Oscars, making the argument that casting lesser-known actors would limit its viewing potential is a non-starter.
And there are other modern musicals that feature quality dance numbers. Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Chicago, Across the Universe, Billy Elliott, all include excellent dance.
I would be thrilled if dance continued to make a comeback in modern film. But if film wants to include dance, the dancing must be excellent and be just as important as the acting chops.