Yes, you read the title correctly: Gene Kelly, the Ballet Choreographer.
It’s true. The man who sings in the rain and is an American in Paris also has a ballet under his choreographic belt. His musical theater roots are clear in his Pas de Dieux (a word play on the classical ballet term pas de deux which is a dance for two people and translates to “No Gods”) which was created for the Paris Opera in 1960 on the étoile Claude Bessy. The piece definitely tends toward Broadway, following the jazzy three movements of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F and harking Jerome Robbins alongside Kelly’s own stylistic tendencies.
Being a francophile who spoke fluent French, the first commission for an original work by an American at France’s predominant arts institution was the perfect fit for Kelly. But I’m not sure the same can be said for the legend’s place in the ballet canon. Although it must be noted that at the time he was widely recognized for his work so much so that he received the title of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Government.
The plot of Pas de Dieux encourages the use of imagination as the ballet opens with Aphrodite and Eros – a puckish character of sorts – plotting to take a trip from the skies to the earth. They descend from the rainbow painted heavens to a terrestrial beach where they, respectively, successfully seduce a lifeguard and his fiancée. There is a lot of frolicking with other sun-loving humans followed by an angry Zeus viewing from his perch above the two new couples in their beds. He rids three of them with his godly ways leaving only his wife whom he ultimately follows into a bar. If you can get past the absurdity and cheekiness of it all, the second part is totally worth it.
The highlight of this scene (and the ballet) is Éric Vu-An, the Artistic Director of Ballet Nice Méditerranée, the performing company. He plays a convincing gangster ripe with seediness and shows us just how jazz dancing should be done. I actually find myself disappointed when his character is choreographed off the stage. Aphrodite and Zeus’s reconciliation pas de deux is ubiquitous at best, but hey – expectations aren’t particularly high at this point.
The third movement is a typical, entertaining finale back at the beach and ends with the three gods being lifted back to their home.