Scottish Ballet is back on the road with ‘Starstruck’, a vivacious new version of Gene Kelly’s classic Pas de Dieux (1960).

After eighteen months of dark theatres with no live performances, the dancers at Scottish Ballet are polishing their pointe and tap shoes to set off on the road again around Scotland.

What could be more exhilarating than presenting the UK premiere of Pas de Dieux to pay tribute to the pioneering choreography by the American musical legend, Gene Kelly in collaboration with Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly.

Gene Kelly’s modern dance work, Pas de Dieux was first performed by Paris Opera Ballet in 1960.  For this revival, Scottish Ballet’s Artistic Director Christopher Hampson and designer, Lez Brotherston have now jazzed up the original ballet as Starstruck, set to a score of Gershwin’s Concerto in F with additional extracts from Chopin. 

So how was the star of many iconic Hollywood musicals invited to create his own new work for the Paris Opera Ballet.? 

During the 1940s and 1950s, Gene Kelly was an all round performer whose athletic style and classical ballet technique transformed the film musical through his innovative choreography and direction. He blended solo dances, ensembles and inventive camera angles to tell a story in purely visual terms.

The 1951 film An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly was inspired by George Gershwin’s 1928 jazz symphony of the same name, and through its radical blend of ballet and jazz music, it won the Academy Award for best picture.  After this great success and the discovery of Leslie Caron, he was keen to collaborate with another French dancer and cast Claude Bessy, a ‘danseuse etoile’ at Paris Opera Ballet for the Hollywood movie, Invitation to the Dance and other films.

When Kelly offered to create a ballet especially for Bessy, he became the first American choreographer to work at the Palais Garnier – so that he himself was an American in Paris.!

Gene Kelly – an American in Paris at the Palais Garnier

Pas de Dieux (a clever wordplay on Pas de Deux), is a lively blend of classical ballet steps and musical comedy jazz routines, with a score by George Gershwin. It tells the story of Aphrodite and Eros, who descend to earth and on the beach where they have landed, the ardent goddess and mischievous god seduce a lifeguard and his fiancée. Just when the beautiful Aphrodite is dancing with her suitor, Zeus arrives to win back his wife and the reconciled immortals return to Olympus, leaving the humans to their earthly loves.

The ballet is set to the three movements of Gershwin’s Concerto in F and Kelly’s snappy choreography is full of fantasy and humour.

Claude Bessy and dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet with Gene Kelly

Kelly commented at the time that it was hard to get the classically trained dancers to go off pointe to loosen up their steps and movement to the jazz beat. Dancing the lead role of Aphrodite was Claude Bessy and the premiere in 1960 was highly acclaimed by the critics as ‘a breath of fresh air. Until tonight, the Paris Opera was ten years behind the times in ballet. Now we are ten years ahead.’ 

Scene from Pas de Dieux, Paris Opera Ballet (photo credit Roger Pic)

For this inspirational production in Paris, Kelly was given the prestigious accolade to be elected as a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour.

Kelly is renowned for his lead role in Singin’ in the Rain, (1952) regarded by some as the best dance film ever made. During the filming of the magical scene when Gene Kelly dances and sings the title song while spinning an umbrella and splashing through puddles, Kelly was suffering from a 103 °F fever. A common myth is that he managed to perform the entire number in one take, thanks to cameras placed in various locations, but it’s more likely that this took a day or so to complete.

Gene Kelly splashes his way down the street in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

In a refreshing and vivacious new version of Pas de Dieux by Scottish Ballet, Starstruck is set amidst the glamorous culture and couture of Paris in 1960, in Gene Kelly’s world where jazz meets ballet, the Gods masquerade as mortals and the stars are in alignment.  The premiere takes place on 23rd September, 2021 at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow and then goes on tour to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

During 2020 with theatres closed, Scottish Ballet kept on working behind the scenes and created a Christmas treat on film, The Secret Theatre for audiences to view at home and two works, Dive and Odyssey for International Dance Day.

With a neat connection to Gene Kelly’s Hollywood career, a film version of Starstruck will combine live performance and cinematic techniques for another immersive, theatrical experience on screen. Directed by Oscar Sansom in partnership with Forest of Black, Starstruck will be released in partnership with Marquee TV on Friday 26 November, 2021. (Advance tickets on sale next month).

Public support is vital to help the company return to touring and audiences can help bring ballet back to the theatres by donating to the Fit for the Gods Appeal. Designer Lez Brotherston has created 100 stunning new costumes to reimagine the original Parisian designs for Kelly’s choreography. 

 ‘We are overjoyed to be returning to stage this autumn, to finally perform to live audiences across Scotland. Gene Kelly’s pioneering choreography influenced a generation of dance-makers, and we honour his creative legacy with this dazzling new production’.

Christopher Hampson, CEO/Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet

Time to raise a glass in celebration!

A unique cask of Royal Lochnagar whisky, laid down in 1994, has now been bottled ready for auction as part of Diageo’s prestigious Casks of Distinction range. The Scottish artist Norman Edgar was commissioned to paint the cask end portraying Principal dancer Nicci Theis in the iconic role of Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.

‘The Sleeping Beauty’ will be launched with 470 bottles to be sold at a Whisky Auctioneer auction on 9-13 September 2021, with all monies raised contributing to the Scottish Ballet Endowment Fund.

‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is a single-cask Highland malt at 56.3% vol. The top notes are of dried fruits and spices, evolving into Christmas cake, plum pudding and mince pies on a bosky (bramble) base.

The Sleeping Beauty whisky for Scottish Ballet

Scottish Ballet presents Starstruck across Scotland from 23 September–16 October, 2021: Theatre Royal, Glasgow (23-25 September), Eden Court, Inverness (30 September-2 October), His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (7-9 October) and Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (14-16 October).

Full information on tour dates and booking tickets:

Fit for the Gods Costume Appeal:

The Sleeping Beauty Whisky auction:


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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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