Darcey Bussell steps into the shoes of her Hollywood heroes such as Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to celebrate the enduring legacy of classic dance musicals.
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As a principal ballerina at London's Royal Ballet for 20 years,
Darcey Bussell was one of the world's most famous dancers.
But the rigours of classical ballet are a long way from the world
she is about to enter.
I have to say the attraction to those films as an eight-year-old,
they were my first real introductions to wanting to dance at all.
Four years after retiring, she is going to attempt
to dance in a completely new way.
To tap like Fred Astaire...
..to foxtrot like Ginger Rogers...
..and to leap like Gene Kelly.
But this kind of dancing is the opposite of everything
she has been trained to do.
Maybe I am slightly stepping out of my comfort zone. Just a little bit.
She's got to be crazy, but God love her.
If she does it great and I like it, bravo.
By stepping into the shoes of the Hollywood greats,
Darcey will discover the story of these films' music...
The skirt goes with you, look at that.
..and famous set pieces.
And by dancing them herself, she'll unlock the secret of their genius.
From the moment sound came to the movies,
every Hollywood studio developed its own style of musical.
And for the next 40 years, huge audiences were enchanted.
What is it that these movies leave in our hearts?
It's some image of brio, sophistication, romance,
wit, lyricism, all coming together in this rhythmic current.
People like Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Ginger Rogers,
they're the most watched dancers of all time,
and will continue to be so.
The first film musicals were crude.
Cameras and microphones had to stay still,
so dancing was difficult to capture.
But the technology quickly improved.
New dance musicals became big box office,
and new kinds of styles danced their way to fame.
How they did it, I just don't know.
They had great technique,
and their musicality, the way they could
interpret a piece of music just through their bodies was fantastic.
Darcey Bussell has always wanted to dance like the performers
she grew up watching.
I think it is a little dream to imagine that I could ever achieve
any of these numbers myself.
Now her moment has come.
In two weeks' time she will go before the camera to dance
her versions of numbers she has always loved.
That worked for me.
Moviegoers came to expect and love a range of dances,
so Darcey is going to perform four classics.
A Fred tap solo...
A Fred and Ginger romantic duet...
A comic trio from Singin' In The Rain...
and a complete reinvention of one of the most influential
dance numbers ever filmed.
It is ambitious, isn't it?
All of it's ambitious because, of course, I've been a ballet dancer
for the last 21-odd years professionally,
and so I haven't had a chance to do many of those other styles.
And so, yeah, I hope it's going to be fun.
I hope it's not going to be terrifying.
-Darcey retired to live in Australia four years ago.
Now she's returned.
It's day one of rehearsals in a dance studio in West London.
In just two weeks, she must unlearn the ballet technique
she has been trained in since the age of nine
and make her body move in a completely different way.
Well, no, I think whatever we do we've got to replace ourselves...
Helping her, along with two West End dancers,
is one of Britain's leading choreographers, Kim Gavin.
Maybe um-ba-um-ba and hold it.
Like Darcey, Kim trained at the Royal Ballet School.
But he made his name in commercial choreography,
producing show-stopping numbers for Take That, among many others.
'We're paying tribute to four classic scenes
'and adapting them for ourselves.
-'We're exploring, you know.'
It's very much an exploration of that era
and how difficult the routines were.
First, Darcey will be attempting the iconic Puttin' On The Ritz.
The number poses three main technical difficulties.
Darcey will have to learn a whole new way of using her feet...
..of holding her body, and using props,
all within an extremely complex rhythm.
'When you watch Fred Astaire doing Puttin' On The Ritz,
'my brain understands how difficult it is,'
but my heart understands how gorgeous it is just to watch it,
and that's what great dancing's all about.
Fred Astaire himself said that rehearsing this solo
took five weeks of backbreaking physical work.
Suddenly he goes through that glass door and there they are,
'an army of Freds.'
'It's just unbelievable!'
'I think, with Puttin' On The Ritz, apart from being a classic piece,
'you look at and go, "How did they do that?"
'Then, in a rehearsal room,'
it's much more of a realisation once you've put it on your own body.
-It's not so taking.
But you're thinking more that the stick is kind of there.
-Controlling the move.
Ballet is all about effort and holding the leg as high as you can,
or the turnout, keeping your feet pointed all the time.
And I think that what the big jump is to the styles that we're doing
is more about feel and being relaxed.
Just relax your feet, be sloppy with your feet a bit more.
It's difficult to be sloppy.
I know, but you're almost pointing your feet between each shuffle.
-I want you to dance like that.
I want you to walk around like that.
'It's not about having a stiff back,
'having turnout, having poise and strength.'
One last time from the top.
'It's about relaxing into the thing
'and expressing yourself within it.'
'And I think that's the difference with Darcey.
'I think it's about the tap and the rhythms and making it smooth,
but it's not about the effort that you put in that she would do
if she did a ballet.
Tap teaches you things that lots of ballet people never know.
'You are thinking percussively and you are thinking down.
Ballet is generally an art of the aerial, going up.
In tap, you're going down into the floor. You've got to think hard.
You have to think of making a noise rather than never making a noise.
And then it is extraordinary speed with the feet.
Of course, a ballet dancer moves fast with the foot
but they're using the foot differently.
They're seldom bringing down the heel.
When they move fast with the feat they're normally covering ground
in a very different way from the way tap dancers are.
So there is Fred going "b-r-r-r-m" in ways that I can't even analyse.
Any ballet dancer's just going to have to think of the whole
musculature from the hip down in a whole new way.
Fred's special skill was to make everything he did look natural
and make every extraordinary movement look like everyone
could do it if they just chose to.
And that's quite a skill.
I would imagine, without masses of experience,
it's extremely difficult.
It feels like it's something that maybe you need to have been doing
all your life, you know, till it's integral to the way you move,
so that's difficult.
Fred Astaire rehearsed every single routine for weeks
before he was satisfied.
But Darcey only has a fortnight to rehearse four routines.
And tap was forbidden at ballet school because it was thought
that it weakened dancers' ankles.
One, two, three...
Tap dancing is something I suppose
I've always been very passionate about, watching the films,
and it is incredibly exciting to watch.
'And it would be nice to think
'that I could achieve some of that excitement.'
-Did the first bit right.
Both Nathan Clark and Dougie Mills are experts in tap.
-Do it without the turn for now.
-I need to turn. Sorry.
-I'm too old, aren't I? That's my problem.
-Here we go.
One, two, three.
'When you watch most tap dancers, their hands and arms are basically
'just hanging there.'
With Fred Astaire, everything is used.
OK, his feet are going, but so are his arms and so are his hands.
Astaire's style with the upper body,
which is not that of any other tap dancer, this way of making
a line throughout the body, making shapes, so you really are
turning a technique into style, physical style - extraordinary.
And the way he uses the cane,
the way the cane is used as extra rhythm throughout,
it's as though he's got three legs.
Hey! That's it.
Fred Astaire wasn't just a dancer,
he was a drummer and a pianist.
There are recordings of him doing all these things if you see him
in a wonderful movie where he has a jazz number with a drum set.
And you see him, in one take, with his feet playing
the drums as well as his hands.
It is great music and it's great dancing.
-How was that?
-My first rehearsal day after about three years.
How was it?
Um, well, it feels all lovely now because you're so hot and sweaty
that you can't feel a thing.
I'm just conscious of what it's going to feel like
when I wake up in the morning! SHE LAUGHS
My body is not used to this any more.
Just going to have a stretch.
Don't rush. One, one, stay, down.
Darcey has come to ask for advice from a man who has already
brought Fred's style to modern audiences by fusing it with ballet.
And show it. One...
Fast, fast, fast, fast.
He is rehearsing the English National Ballet
in his production of Strictly Gershwin,
in which Darcey's tap mentor, Dougie Mills, is co-starring.
Mwah! Sharp, sharp, sharp, sharp.
That's good. Come in, boys, in.
Well, Fred Astaire was obviously the greatest dancer that ever lived, really, wasn't he?
I know, and he wasn't even that good looking, was he?
-No, not even that good looking.
-It just shows you anyone can do it.
True, but what enormous charisma.
And if you look at all those old films,
the energy levels are enormous.
They make it all look terribly easy, they make it look terribly simple,
but your energy levels have to be at full blast to be able to show that.
-I have to say, I'm a bit scared.
-Well, I don't think you should be.
It's about how, it's about where the eyes are going,
it's about where the head is going. Is the boy behind?
-There's so much...
-You're giving me so many tips.
There's so much luggage there that makes it look right.
You are taken more in by the dance.
-And with the style.
-And the way he moved.
-And the most simple step, made it look extraordinary.
I think you're very brave to do this. I think you're very brave.
I think it's a great challenge for you to try and do it,
but you know, what they had was invention, musicality and style.
So, you obviously have to be able to create
what they first developed, which is not impossible at all,
but very, very hard because it was so set on those people,
do you know what I mean?
-As we said, their characters.
-Their characters and how they were.
It scares me to even think that I'm trying to attempt it.
-But then I'm also very excited at the same time.
-Of course, of course.
-It's a challenge for you.
-I wish I was younger.
-You're going out of your comfort zone as well.
You're going to find this very amusing, I know.
Oh, I like that!
Dougie Mills and Paul Robinson, two of the company's stars,
have been inspired by the history of tap.
-OK, OK, OK....
-We're actually on the wrong side.
-Are you serious?
-Yes, we normally click.
But we're the other way. We always miss that though.
We always miss that.
I'm just trying to touch on the history of tap
and where it really started.
Can you give me any ideas
or your inspirations of where tap inspired you?
It was Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. That was my...
-Yes. Inspirations, isn't it?
I'd go back maybe only 10 years or something before that
to two people that really impressed me were the Nicolas brothers,
were so acrobatic and their feet were amazing.
-I don't know if it was the brother thing, how in sync they were.
-They could feed off each other.
Yeah, and I think they started the whole role of film
which moved to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly
and that was definitely our inspiration.
-We try to do it the best justice possible.
-Exactly. Major respect.
Give me some tips of what kind of hits you straightaway
if you think about Puttin' On The Ritz.
-What is your first image?
-I would say fluidity with a cane,
-being it's so fluid.
-The way he just, the moves, the cane.
-From one move to the other.
-The cane is so in sync with his body
and the way he moves it round his body and stuff.
-It's just like...
-The cane is my partner.
The style with Fred Astaire's stick and positioning and...
and all those shoulder moves and... I've got a lot to think about.
But it's all about rehearsal and if I go over it, I think,
they also mentioned a stick
and having that relationship with the stick
that it's actually your partner that Fred Astaire used that stick
as part of his moves, it wasn't just an added on prop.
Worries me a bit as well.
But I'll just have to take it to bed with me.
That doesn't sound right, does it?!
We know what you mean!
I'll just sleep on it.
I'll have to sleep, that doesn't sound right either!
That sounds awful.
Musicals were big business for a year after the coming of sound,
but then, the depression hit Hollywood hard.
One studio, RKO, even faced bankruptcy.
But then, a dance musical with a performer new to movies
called Fred Astaire became a surprise hit.
Fred's skills in the theatre
had attracted the interest of Hollywood producers relatively late.
He was 34 by the time he made his first films in 1933.
He and his sister Adele had been performing on stage,
in vaudeville, later on, on Broadway
and here in London from the ages of five and seven.
He and Adele had done a screen test back in the 20s
and this famous quote attributed to an anonymous studio executive
which is, "Can't act, can't sing,
"balding, also dances."
Before sound, a man who looked like Fred would never have been a star.
But Fred's dancing and singing
made him one of the biggest names of the 1930s
and saved RKO itself from ruin.
He took inspiration from wherever he could find it.
For tap, he borrowed dance styles he saw in the 1920s Harlem.
In this case, given an innovative treatment
within a bygone tradition of the minstrel show.
From the 20s onwards, tap meeting ballroom,
this is the great confluence
and it was happening partly with the black African American artists,
but partly with the high age of 20s, 30s elegance
also, so it's the overlap of both white and black areas of society.
Plenty of people feel that tap belongs to black artists
and that Fred Astaire was an interloper.
For me, he's as great a tap dancer as there ever was.
-I'd just like to go from the beginning again.
MUSIC: "Puttin' On The Ritz"
It's day three of the Puttin' On The Ritz rehearsals.
Darcey now has to put together the moves,
the cane work and the tapping.
And Darcey's knee, which went through major ligament surgery
five months ago, is holding up well. So far.
'She's recovering from the knee injury,
'which is hard,'
especially the tap, it's hard
because you're completely pounding on one knee.
I think she's certainly got guts.
She snapped a tendon in the knee,
called the anterior cruciate ligament.
She must adapt her dancing accordingly.
'I was doing some dance classes just for fun
'and I landed from a jump. Um, I dislocated my knee.'
'And I had to go and see a physio surgeon that day.'
'And they said that I had snapped it.'
And I said, "But I know, I've seen dancers snap Achilles and ACLs
"and it goes off like a gunshot."
'I said there was no sound.
'They said, "Probably because of your career,'
"there wasn't much of a tendon left anyway,"
cos I have had two operations on the same leg, on my ankle.
Seven, eight, one...
Basically they cut your hamstring and they graft it on with two screws.
'Normally it would be you wouldn't dance on it, probably,
'until eight months after the operation.
'So what I mustn't do on it is jump.'
Um, any large jumps, I can do small jumps.
But if you have a choreographer that knows you, you can adapt.
They've just pulled out of the insurance.
I'll use it as my other knee.
The next day, Darcey's family arrive to give moral support.
-Hey, Jim. How are you?
-Good, thank you.
-Nice to see you.
-I'm all sweaty, sorry.
Are you going to do a little run for us?
Her husband Angus is worried
about the physical toll the rehearsals are taking.
-Go and sit down.
-How's your knee?
I'd missed this.
Oh, my bottom hurts.
-And then keep moving straightaway.
Mummy was really good.
When you're older, you can be like Mummy, but singing.
You don't want to be a dancer as well?
I would like to be a dancer.
So you can be dancing and singing, can't you?
You just have to work hard, like Mummy.
She works hard, doesn't she?
Just work hard. Mummy can teach you everything she knows about dance.
-She already has.
-She's taught you everything already?
Tap isn't Darcey's strongest suit.
So she has to work very hard
to get to six, seven, eight out of 10 by HER standards.
Plus having had the ACL on her knee only five months ago,
this is right border line.
Darcey's very careful,
but we are at the minimum threshold of what she would normally do.
So, we've got our fingers crossed.
We've really got our fingers crossed
that she will get through this program.
APPLAUSE Doesn't hurt so much now.
It is odd, doing it in my 40s.
I'm not used to being old
and the recovery period after each day being really tough.
I have sort of bowed down
to my body is just going to hurt for the next three weeks.
Hi. Is this studio two?
-Great, thank you.
The music Darcey will dance to is being recorded
specially for her at the legendary Abbey Road Studio Two.
The Beatles among others famously used this studio.
And now conductor John Wilson is here,
recording music otherwise only available in the original mono.
John Wilson's sell-out proms and concerts of Hollywood classics
are attracting new audiences to this music.
Start the letter "I" with the pickup from the clarinets.
-Oh, this is Darcey. Hello.
Shall we welcome her?
We're just about to try and do this nicely for you.
He has assembled a 63-piece orchestra dedicated to recording
this music faithfully for the first time since these movies were made.
Yes. One, two, one, two...
MUSIC: "Puttin' On The Ritz"
OK, we'll do that as an edit. That's it.
-..Faster the easier it gets.
-For me? Slower!
Because I'm not a tap dancer.
That's a good one for the violin lines, I'm told.
Are you going to have a listen to it, yes?
MUSIC REACHES CRESCENDO
LAUGHTER AND SQUEALING
I'm in shock. SHE LAUGHS
Not that I wasn't expecting it to be good but, um...
slightly too professional for me!
John has made it his mission accurately to recreate music
that was once thought lost forever.
In 1969, MGM was taken over and the room full of scores
and all the orchestral parts was destroyed.
One Saturday morning, every note of music written for every MGM film
was taken away and used as landfill for a golf course.
So that music no longer exists.
So I had no choice other than to transcribe them from the soundtrack.
But it's music I've loved all my life
and for the past decade I've been restoring this music
by listening to the soundtracks. Laborious though that may be,
one is restoring great works of American popular culture.
All right, I know how to fix that.
And they're as fresh now to listen to, especially live,
as they were when they were first recorded.
One, two, two, two...
'It's really impressive.
'And seeing them all kind of furiously getting in every note,
'I feel incredibly honoured, actually.
'It sort of wants me to make it even more perfect
'and I'm not going to be satisfied unless it is.'
Five. MUSIC CONTINUES
My groin. SHE WINCES
-Which number is this?
-This is just the last toe, heel, toe, heel.
And into the nine, cos we haven't got a clean one yet.
In these movies, the sound of the taps was added separately.
Unusually, Fred always did his own,
and Darcey comes to what's known as a Foley studio
to try to do the same.
-Can I do that again?
-One more. Just the same place.
With the music and the taps in the can and barely a fortnight
after arriving London, it's Darcey's first film studio day.
I'm not limping. I'm all right.
< Morning, Darcey!
You were going to push in there.
One, two, three, four, bring it in front of you.
Nathan Clark, having helped coach Darcey, will now be filling in
as the army of Freds after she goes through the mirrors.
-Have fun, enjoy, and cue music.
'My body's feeling like it used to feel, a bit beaten up.
'But I feel really honoured
'that I got to actually work on that choreography
'and just appreciate what a genius Fred Astaire was.'
I probably didn't give him the justice he should have had
in Puttin' On The Ritz, but I'm really glad I attempted it.
I've got a couple of blisters in my tap shoes for a change
instead of my point shoes.
Everyone loves tap dancing. The problem is with tap dancing,
it's a thing you have to do basically on your own,
it's an individual thing. And people want to dance
to meet the opposite sex, that's what dancing was all about.
Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, that's what you wanted.
For Darcey's second number,
she has to move into a very different type of dance.
The romantic duet.
Darcey has come to one of the last remaining ballrooms in Britain.
These dance styles were once all the rage.
My dad, who used to go dancing a lot,
has spoken to me about, everyone went dancing. Everyone.
'Everyone wanted to dance
'because you all wanted to be Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers.
'They would watch the movies and see a little move
'and then they would try and interpret that.
'My dad would practise with his sister in the front room.'
"Let's try and do that thing Fred and Ginger did."
And they'd practise it.
And when he'd get to the ballroom, get the girl and give it a go!
The dances that swept Britain were directly influenced
by the Hollywood dream factory.
And when RKO paired an at first reluctant Fred
with a certain Ginger Rogers,
the most enduring and celebrated duo in dance was formed.
Of the hundreds of films RKO made,
the Astaire-Rogers pictures were among its most profitable.
Well, you know, a lot of the dances that are ballroom dances
actually come from America.
The foxtrot, that's a Hollywood dance.
The quickstep comes from the Charleston.
So that's another dance that comes from America
and has developed into one of our ballroom dances.
And I think when people went to the cinema,
they wanted to be Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The duo changed not just Hollywood
but how couples on both sides of the Atlantic danced.
Dances from their films became crazes,
such as the hit of 1934, the Continental.
Retro DJs the Shellac Sisters play these very records today.
-And would this have first come off a film?
As people saw the dancing, Fred and Ginger doing amazing things,
and probably thought, "Hmm, if I get a hold of that 78,"
you know, "Me and the wife can learn those steps
"and then we'd wow them on the dancefloor."
# It has a passion, the Continental
# An invitation to moonlight and romance
# It's quite the fashion, the Continental
# Because you tell of your love while you dance
# Your lips whisper so tenderly
# Her eyes answer your song
# Two bodies swaying, the Continental. #
'Why do you think it became a craze?'
'I think with the Continental, it was a bit risque, wasn't it?
'Because they kiss in the middle.'
And that would have been quite unusual, to do that in public.
-In that time as well.
# Kiss while you're dancing. #
'So to have a dance where that was part of the dance...
-'It was allowed.'
-'I think it was a boys' dance.'
-It was choreographically allowed in the music.
I'm sure all the men rushed to the dance studios to learn that one!
You can imagine the queues outside!
Yeah, in that era, it would have been very undone.
Some dances were brief crazes,
but other Fred and Ginger numbers have endured forever.
In her version of Cheek To Cheek,
from the movie Top Hat, Darcey will be taking the Ginger Rogers role.
I wonder what's keeping Horace.
'It's always a question with dancing all the time,
'how much is it about sex?'
-I'm afraid I'm going to have a headache.
This is a meeting I've been planning a long time.
'Katharine Hepburn's famously meant to have said
'that Ginger gave him sex and he gave her class.'
Nice to see you again, Miss Tremont.
You robbed me of the pleasure of introducing you two.
You've already met!
The chemistry between him and Ginger was never equalled ever again.
'I think, physically, they were such perfect complements,
both very lissome, both very lithe.
She was just the right body shape to match his slight figure.
'And it's a very good example of how they told a story in dance.
'It's very much part of their characters,
'their thought processes, their feelings,
'all of which their wonderful fluency of movement communicates.'
Watching this as a kid on Sunday afternoons,
this probably would be one of my favourite pieces.
Cheek To Cheek. It's very romantic.
I do love the feel.
She looks like she's totally studying Fred.
She's got her eye on him all the time.
And he looks like he's just playing with the steps.
The techniques in this style of dancing are also very different
from ballet. Here, Darcey will have to go against her instinct
to keep her knees straight and her feet turned out,
and she'll have to allow her posture to relax.
'It looks so easy, but it actually isn't at all.
'I mean, rehearsing it is actually really tiring,'
cos they bounce all the way through it, they're doing a lot of jumps.
Even though the steps are so simple.
I think my favourite bit is the end, where they're cheek to cheek,
it suddenly just all makes sense.
And he REALLY pushes his face against hers, she seems a bit kind of tense.
And the relief that they're finished.
This image of romance has a powerful appeal across the decades.
Two years ago, Darcey was a guest judge on Strictly Come Dancing.
-Hi, Moira, lovely to see you.
-Lovely to see you.
-I know, I know.
It brings back a lot of good memories. It's really nice.
-I love the new sets as well.
Yeah, it's very impressive.
For us, with Strictly,
the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers,
they are the benchmark for dance.
It's about the coupling, it's about the chemistry.
That's who Len will set as a benchmark
for everybody to aspire to be.
That's what I want to see.
That's what I want to be - transported to Hollywood.
And, whether I'm stuck here in Shepherd's Bush, I still want
to be there in Hollywood, thinking of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
We're working on four different pieces. One is Cheek To Cheek.
-Which was Fred Astaire.
-Would you have an tips for me approaching a piece like that?
I mean, I know it's foxtrot.
It's very fluid, very fluid and smooth, so I would say,
because it's so linear,
but the lines are also very smooth
going in and out, so no tension in the body.
It has to have some kind of tension, but it has to be a very fluid,
-Thank you very much.
-All the best for tonight.
MUSIC OBSCURES SPEECH
-That's not on the beat.
-They don't hit it.
-They don't hit it, do they?
-I wish she didn't have that bloody dress on!
I can see it.
This time, Nathan will be taking the Fred Astaire role.
'This is a bit of a challenge,
'working with a ballerina, cos we have completely different training,'
the way you hold you hold your body is different and the way ballet boys
partner their girls is different to the way we're trained.
-Is it because I'm trying to go, "Yah...yah"?
-Rather than going...?
'Cos I haven't done the classical training with partners,
'but I know that it's a lot more controlled and rigid
and you know exactly where everything is, where,
when it comes to partner work in the jobs that I do,
it's, "Throw that girl around as fast as you can
"and just hope that you get there in time."
I think Darcey's done an amazing job of coming over
to my side of things, and I've also learnt a lot from her.
Five, no, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five.
Da, da, ya! Yes?
If I go past you, it's crap.
Ballroom dancing, waltz and foxtrot particularly,
you swing from the hip. It's all about the...
They're called the swing dances, because you swing through the hip.
In addition to that, you have to get sway.
These things are not natural in a ballet dancer.
When you watch ballroom dancing, the first step is taken through the heel
and then you lift up onto the ball of your foot to get rise and fall.
Same in the foxtrot - heel, ball, rise and fall.
In ballet, you very rarely - in fact, I don't know if ever -
you step forward through the heel.
It's always off the ball of the foot or through the toe onto the ball.
So, this is going to be technically a huge challenge.
'Apart from just learning the choreography
'and getting the number down,
'the technique is going to be so difficult,'
and so far out of Darcey's comfort zone.
-You seem to glisse on and then he pulls you down.
-So it's more that.
-And I'm doing like that on top.
-Like a ballet step.
Marcus and Karen Hilton are 12 times champion ballroom dancers.
They've come to give Darcey some technical tips
about how this sort of dance style differs
from what she's been brought up to do.
Quite a slow one, isn't it?
Yeah, so it's like a check to the left, to the right,
then it comes back.
It's sort of doing a triangle. Is that right?
I suppose it's almost like a check and back.
We call it a natural check.
'If I look at male and female in the ballet world,'
the male will just literally support the female,
whereas, in this instance, body weights are coming together.
'So it's the weight of the body that's supporting each other.'
'So we've got that constant body contact and weight contact.'
-It's quite soft, isn't it?
-It's much softer.
We were just going, "Side and side, side and side." And it's like across.
'I think the challenge is tremendous,
'but she's coping admirably.'
From an early age, she's been told
she must straighten those knees, no matter what.
Flex your knees.
Darcey, chase after me and just feel how flexed my knees are.
-They never, ever...
'We're talking about flexed knees,'
inside edge of knees coming inside, no turn out,
tracking of the legs under the body.
Put your knee together, the back of the knee.
But, um, she's making a lovely job of it
and I know she's capable of doing it beautifully.
Darcey needs to find out what was the essential character
that Ginger Rogers brought to this extraordinary dance partnership.
Actress Summer Strallen is about to play the Ginger Rogers part
in a new national touring production of Top Hat.
She was a beautiful lady.
She was incredibly petite, wasn't she?
Yeah, tiny, and a fantastic actress.
I think that's the main thing that I love about her.
She wasn't THE most fantastically trained technical dancer,
yet she looks it.
-'There's a meaning to every single move that she does.'
'And you can really tell what she's thinking the whole way through.'
-'Having a story with her moves.'
And that's been a massive inspiration to me, anyway,
watching her work.
One, two, three, one, two, three.
One, two, three, turn! One, two, three, tur...
Let's try it again.
'Ginger Rogers was essentially an amateur.'
'Glorious amateur, I should say.'
Because she almost...
You almost watched her learn to dance through each film.
'She learnt from Astaire and she got better and better as it went along.'
'The pleasure in watching her,'
is watching this person who's loving it,
absolutely loving doing what she's doing
and loving getting better at it.
'And it's partly why we all love Strictly Come Dancing, actually.
'We love seeing those people getting better each week.
'We love that sort of change and how they feel about it.'
'And it's a lot to do with feeling, I think.'
So that would be my advice, really, is to try and capture that,
not just the technique.
The success of Fred's films attracted some of the top
popular composers of the day to work with him.
-Nice and lightly, yeah?
-And Irving Berlin's Cheek To Cheek
was one of the most lasting numbers of them all.
THEY PLAY "CHEEK TO CHEEK"
These movies often prompted the musicians to their finest.
Irving Berlin had been at the top of showbusiness
since the First World War, or thereabouts,
but he'd actually gone to a slight loss of inspiration.
Suddenly, he's invited to work on Top Hat
and working for Fred Astaire brings his greatest flowering so far.
MUSIC OBSCURES SPEECH
'Fred Astaire was this sort of quality control man,
'when it came to certain composers.
'He'd been known to say, "I think you can do better."'
'He was tireless in polishing it to a real perfection.
'The sort of perfection I don't think we'll ever see again.'
'The way Fred Astaire put a number across,'
was often, you know, very much involved with his rhythmic sense.
He never thought of himself as a singer,
but he was many composers' favourite singer.
He always sang beautifully in tune and he had this sort of poise
and rhythmic sort of grace,
which I think did a lot of those numbers
great credit and great justice.
-Well, if Madge doesn't care, I certainly don't.
-Neither do I.
All I know is that it's...
# I'm in heaven
# And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
# And I seem to find the happiness I seek
# When we're up together dancing cheek to cheek. #
'The phrasing that Fred Astaire brings is so astounding.
'I love the way he slides the voice generally.'
# I'm in heaven Da-da daa-da. #
It's really a master musician portamento effect, that.
# Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
# When we're up together dancing cheek to cheek. #
While rehearsing, Darcey gets a special visitor.
-"Rehearsing Cheek To Cheek..."
-"A swell tune."
-"A swell tune."
The perfect vernacular for the time!
As a teenager, Ava Astaire travelled frequently with her father.
Daddy and Ginger, they never fought.
There's always all these stories about how
they were fighting constantly
and I really think that probably can be attributed
to the dress that he had to fight
when they did the number Cheek To Cheek.
They got out there to do the shot and the feathers started shedding
and they got up his nose and in his eyes and he lost his temper.
And from that, legends have been built that they fought constantly
but, actually, when the whole filming was over,
they presented her with a gold feather for her charm bracelet.
It is one of those magical pieces, when you watch Cheek To Cheek.
You just go, "That dress, oh, my gosh, that dress."
I can see why she wanted it and she did design it
and it's just that they never rehearsed with those dresses,
any of the costumes.
They never did in those days.
And there you are, the feathers down low there.
Couturier to the stars and one of Princess Diana's
favourite dress designers, Bruce Oldfield,
is giving advice about the type of frock Darcey might wear.
That dress, on its own, is a dog.
And that dress needs a body in it and it needs a body who's dancing
because it's this great, big bulky coat.
Cos she was so petite,
to put her in something that kind of covered her up.
Yeah, it's ridiculous. But, of course,
it was a sublime dress in motion.
A ghastly yeti of a frock.
I've never seen somebody faff around with a dress
that's in their mouth and she's like this.
-Every time she went upside down, you couldn't see her face.
So he would lunge with her, and the dress would be flapped over her face.
It must have been...
No, apparently, after that film, she was called Feathers,
-that was her nickname.
-Amazing. So, can we look at it? A feel of that...
-Of feathers, yeah.
Chic to chic. Cheek to Cheek, not chic to chic!
Yeah, it just needs flow at the hem, doesn't it? Um, what about this one?
Cos this one has, you know, it's massively...
There's a lot of dress there. This is a wedding dress.
And, of course, if you danced in that,
it would just keep moving after you.
-It's very short. I've got such a long body.
Well, you might come out the top end, as well.
-That wouldn't do.
Hello! Does it do up?
-I don't know.
Is it cos I've got to lower it? Cos my waist actually is tiny.
I think it is, but then your boobs might jump out the top.
That'll be exciting!
No, it won't be.
-Yeah, it looks great.
-It is, it's so light.
-It doesn't feel like it would knock anybody out, either.
-Not even Fred.
-Good old Fred.
But there's enough room under here for a couple of people.
-Yeah, there is, yeah.
-You might get lost. Beautiful.
It's good also for your high kicks, if you decided you wanted to do any.
The skirt goes with you, look at that.
-God, it went all the way up, your leg!
-Oh, it still does.
I'm amazed that your legs will go up that far.
-That's very kind.
-I didn't know that's where they're supposed to go.
Downstairs, Bruce has another possibility.
-Cos it's the same as the pink.
-I love the colour.
-It's lovely seeing it in the making as well.
-I think it will be very good for that scene.
-Gorgeous, tell your auntie.
-What is it, Baz, what's the matter?
-Doesn't like the dress.
Doesn't like the dress. "It's better in pink."
Yeah, "Better in pink, why are you making another one?" It's gorgeous.
A week later, the Bruce Oldfield dress has arrived for a try-out.
Oh, it's a bit big.
Yeah, it could do with coming in a little bit.
'The whole point of that Cheek To Cheek thing,'
is that it feels like it's a floaty, fantasy, feathery thing.
It's a little bit too structured, I think that's why.
-So it would take away from the...
-I like women's backs and that completely negates...
-I like seeing the back.
-Cos that's the elegant part, isn't it?
I mean, that does look beautiful, but it...
It's pretty from the front, but it's not a dress, I suppose,
-that you twiddle in.
So, the Oldfield dress, not so flexible in the back,
is rejected in favour of something closer to the original.
Cheek To Cheek is being filmed on location,
and her new dress awaits her.
This is the original dress that Darcey tried on.
We've done a few alterations to it.
We've put more feathers round the bottom,
just to give it a bit more weight.
Darcey felt like there should be more feathers
around her head and shoulders.
This has been shaken within an inch of its life,
so we don't get any featherage.
Take first positions. And...cue music.
MUSIC: "Cheek To Cheek".
By the early 50s,
MGM was making half of all the musicals turned out by Hollywood.
And, emboldened by success, the studio took the gamble
of allowing one of its stars, Gene Kelly, to co-direct a movie.
Hot dog! Hallelujah!
Kelly jumped in with both feet
and helped change the direction of movie musicals for ever.
-What do you mean, the 24th?
-It's 1:30 already, it's morning!
Every person, when they wake up,
should have Good Morning suddenly come on.
-# Good morning.
# We've talked the whole night through... #
The third number that Darcey will be dancing is from
one of Kelly's finest achievements,
the ever-popular movie, Singin' In The Rain.
# It's great to stay up late. #
In Good Morning, she'll take the Debbie Reynolds role.
When you compare Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly, I mean,
Gene Kelly is more obviously handsome and hunky.
And for that very reason, that is, apparent sexiness,
plenty people will always prefer Gene Kelly.
# Good morning Good morning to you.
# And you and you and you. #
If Fred Astaire is Champagne and caviar,
then Gene Kelly was beer and a burger.
He was the man's dancer.
# New York, New York A wonderful town... #
'The same old things are said about Fred and Gene all the time.
'It's that Astaire was elegant and in top hat and tails
'and Gene Kelly is the workmanlike, everyman guy.'
'You know, he was happy being a builder or a sailor in everything.'
The irony of it is that I think it was almost the opposite.
You know, Astaire sort of fell into the top hat and tails,
didn't really feel comfortable and was much more a casual kind of guy.
'Gene Kelly was very sort of inspired by different forms of dance
'and did look to higher things in terms of his dancing,
'wanted to make a whole film using classical ballet dancers.'
And you have to admire his ambition.
Darcey will have not only to tap and use props,
but also to follow the Gene Kelly trademark use of different levels.
'I think this piece has great energy, it's got great wit.
'You know, I wanted to see Darcey really have fun with it.'
And I think that that combination, all over the set,
with the levels would be a great challenge for her too.
'In Good Morning, settees, mackintoshes,'
anything you wanted, whatever was lying about, almost -
"Let's augment that into the number."
It's just such a unique bit cos Gene uses all these props
as part of his choreography.
And props terrify me.
Three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Halfway through rehearsals
and Gene Kelly's daughter, Kerry Kelly Novick, has come to watch.
-Hi, I'm Darcey.
-Thank you for coming.
-I am very happy to be here.
-I am Kim.
-Glad to meet you.
-This is Nathan.
-Nice to meet you.
MUSIC: "Good Morning" by Brown and Freed
And two, and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
So we make a cut there.
Gene Kelly had such an athletic body.
I suppose that is why he loved all the props
-and didn't worry about jumping off anything, but she did.
-But he was 40.
When he did Good Morning he was 40?
-OK, then I don't feel so bad now!
-There's a parallel!
-Yeah, there's a parallel!
-Did you watch this piece on the set when they did it?
Yeah, because Singin' In The Rain was shot in the summer,
so I was on summer vacation so I was I was hanging out a lot.
-I was eight...
-It's amazing what you remember.
..And Debbie Reynolds was 18.
I thought she was the most wonderful person and she was extremely sweet.
Singin' In The Rain - do you have any...?
Did he tell you what that was like to rehearse?
Doing all those dance moves in the rain?
They rehearsed it without the rain, a lot,
but then it took them two days to shoot.
And he was wearing a grey tweed suit with a Norfolk jacket, a heavy suit
and it's California in the summer
and the rainwater was sort of tepid, I think.
'By the end of the first day, he was running a temperature of 103
'and getting pneumonia because he was in the wet suit all day.'
'He shot it really sick.'
-'He did do it?'
Singin' In The Rain was co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.
Now 87, he's lost none of his bite.
Singin' In The Rain was a movie
that you found yourself collaborating on.
-What was it like?
Who could like co-directing?
I don't want to have to prove myself to my partner.
And he outweighed me because he was the star of the picture.
It said "Gene Kelly".
I was the director, at least that was my feeling,
and Gene was the star.
But he was the co-director and I hated it.
-Did you co-choreograph?
-Was that equally difficult?
Yes, because that's very physical.
Not something I enjoyed and I don't think it was something he enjoyed.
No matter where that balance is, unless you're all taking
the weight off the back foot at the same time...
-Just keep the pressure going. Find where it is.
'It is not fun making movies.'
'Even if they are supposed to be about fun.
It ain't laughs and joy, and, "Isn't this great?".
It's not. It's tough.
'It was inch by inch.'
It's, "This is good enough for a few seconds or a few bars,
And you have to come up with a new idea to carry on.
Then you go...
'It was a step-by-step idea.'
'"It works up to there, but now it seems to be lousy. What's wrong?
'"Take it out, change it, turn it upside down."
'That's the way it is to choreograph that particular number.'
'It's not... It doesn't...'
The only idea behind that number is they are happy dancing together.
'And happy dancing is not a great idea. We've all seen it a lot.'
'So you have to come up with great invention.'
'I don't know that it was great, but it was at least invention.'
Singin' In The Rain was also step-by-step.
If you look at it, you will see him dancing and splashing in puddles.
'Those puddles have to be selected, the beat they're on,
'how big it is, how much water it is, where does he go?
'They have to be dug out of the cement.'
It's inch by inch.
It's not, "I have got a great idea,
"he's going to splash in the puddles." Now what?
'You have to work out exactly which puddle, how does he splash in it?
'Where is it? What's the dance step?
'How does it fall in the music?'
# I'm dancin'
# And singin'
-# In the rain.
Gene Kelly had arrived but Fred Astaire had not gone away.
In fact, he returned with a vengeance in this movie,
discovering in the process a whole new range of invention.
This is from a film The Band Wagon.
I think it's one of my most favourite scenes
from some of these films because the choreography is just extraordinary,
actually quite comical.
But just perfect for the scene because it's all set in a nightclub.
There are all these gangsters and their girls.
Fred Astaire also found a brand-new partner,
the extraordinary Cyd Charisse.
Cyd Charisse plays these two women.
The major, sultry woman - here she comes in her beautiful red dress.
'It's very sexy, but kind of classy and sexy.'
'Cyd Charisse is my favourite.'
She was so tall. She had such an elegance, such a presence about her.
'It's incredible to think that that was done in 53.
'We're talking over 50 years ago,
'and yet it's modern. It's up-to-date.
'It could be a Michael Jackson number. Smooth Criminal.
'That is one of my iconic numbers,'
mainly because it's totally unexpected.
It is not what you expect Fred Astaire to be doing.
'Astaire is now in his 50s.'
He was a workaholic, a perfectionist.
He didn't love to give it...
He wanted to keep it ongoing, just in the right circumstances.
And he needed the right partner.
In Darcey's final number, she'll be exploring the Cyd Charisse role
In The Girl-Hunt from The Band Wagon.
'He was inspired by Cyd Charisse
'who had come from the classical ballet world,'
but interestingly really blossomed in film.
Apparently she never had any stamina at all.
It suited her perfectly to do these shots and then have a rest,
then do something else!
'But she's one of the most beautiful dancers ever captured on screen
'and probably one of the most viewed dancers of all time.'
'Fred Astaire in his memoirs talks about Cyd Charisse.
'He says, "When you've danced with Cyd Charisse you stay danced with."'
-How are you?
-Thank you for coming to meet me.
-Come and sit down.
Darcey has come to meet choreographer Lavelle Smith Jr
who was a dancer in Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal video...
-Right here. That was me. See that bad dancing?
-That wasn't bad. That was great.
..which itself paid direct homage to The Girl-Hunt number.
# Smooth criminal. #
'Do you remember watching that with Michael Jackson,
'that scene with Fred Astaire?'
I remember watching it and thinking, "Wow!"
When I started watching it with him he explained that he would go
to this guy's house, Fred Astaire's house, and learn how to tap,
-talk about making movies.
Yes, Fred Astaire told him that they took their time.
They didn't skimp on that.
He'll do it again and again, and that was Michael.
You would have to smile and bear it because we would do it
until our bodies told us what was next.
'What I notice when you see Michael Jackson's work
'and Fred Astaire's, is that it's very clean'
and you can actually see everything, every movement left behind.
-Yeah, I love that.
-Like a sparkler - when you do this
and you can see the line after it's finished.
That's a great analysis. Yes.
Everything is so clean and, as you said,
it does come down to rehearsals.
Yes, to rehearsal. Smooth Criminal took three months to do.
-Someone reminded me this morning
-that it was really only eight minutes.
-There you go. But we'll never forget it.
# Then you ran into the bedroom You were struck down
# It was your doom... #
# So sexy
# Tonight I am all yours... #
And its influence continues...
# The way your body... #
..to Beyonce and beyond.
In this final number, Kim Gavin is reinventing The Girl-Hunt sequence
from The Band Wagon For Darcey.
'This section from Band Wagon, called The Girl-Hunt Ballet
'has riddled its way up to today,'
and we want to try and do is take it and do our version
with Darcey being the forefront, the Cyd Charisse character.
'And put a new soundtrack, new dance,
'bring in some ensemble to create a dynamic piece,'
based on or influenced by The Band Wagon.
'I'm hoping that we can surround her with a great team as well,
'and that she's part of that team,
'unlike the other numbers which are very much stand-alone pieces.'
I wanted her to fit within the group a little bit more.
Look at that!
But it does not need it flatter.
It almost needs for you to kind of go up that way.
A different direction?
So that I am seeing you go over there, not up there and coming down.
That would be better.
-Then you have somewhere to go.
-It gives us more room.
-That works. That's better.
-Let him go round.
-Then we will have time for it as well.
'You do have to get yourself in a very different mindset
'for a piece like this. It's much more grounded.'
Nothing's ever fully stretched.
Even though Kim has asked for a couple of things
that are probably more authentic to me,
'everything is very into the ground and very fast.
'The beat is incredibly important. And it just looks,
'when it goes like that...
'And I am learning off the girls I'm around.'
'I'm enjoying watching them a lot,
'just watching their little nuances.'
The way they touch their head,
or move or anything like that is really nice to see.
I will have more inhibitions about things like that.
'I'm just finding things like putting your shoulder up.'
In classical ballet, we'd be very inclined
to make sure the distance between your chin and your shoulder
is always long and if I did a move like that, I'd have distance.
Here it's really happy to do a roll.
'I think it's very much the flavour of the piece as well.'
Kind of rum, dirty, but keeping it classy at the same time.
You kind of run in.
Finally Darcey is back on set with the ensemble of other dancers
to shoot Kim's reinvention of the hugely influential The Girl-Hunt
with its newly commissioned score.
'It was late and it was quiet.'
'The city breathed slowly,
'caught in a dream, though nightmares hid in every shadow.
'The name's Riley. I am a police detective.
'I got a tip that something big was going down
'and I wanted a piece of it.'
'This was no place for a kid like her.'
'She had eyes that were once bright and twice as scared.
'She was the girl I wanted to protect and serve...forever.'
'I knew this wasn't what it seemed, but what was it?
'I guess there's only one way to find out.'
# Hey, yeah!
# Everybody's shaking and making those looks at you
# I just won a bet with the band
# Ooh-oh, ow! #
'She had legs longer than a millionaire's cheque-book
'but no one could afford to make this mistake.'
'You could cut the tension with a knife.'
'This girl was bad. This girl was dangerous.'
# Yeah, she moves with danger
# Yeah, she talks in tongues Don't think you can change her
# Now look what you've done
# Now she's got the motive Now she's shot the gun
# She could tempt you and play you and catch you if you run
# Stop her before you fall in love
# Because you ain't secure If you're wanting more
# But a little unsure then you already need the cure
# Trust me there's more there really is
# Stirring it everywhere
# The way she's making you stare and flicking her hair
# Crush her now Just crush her now
# She moves with danger Yeah, she talks in tongues
# Don't think you can change her Now look what you've done
# Now she's got the motive Now she's shot the gun
# She could tempt you and play you and catch you if you run
# Yeah. #
'This case was closed but I still had some unfinished business.
'The girl was bad, the girl was dangerous,
'but that's my kind of girl.'
Soon after The Band Wagon was released, rock and roll arrived
and a certain romantic innocence was lost forever.
'Dance is dependent on the music and unfortunately
'that type of music, the foxtrots, the waltzes,'
and the gliding glamorous dances,
the music went and with it the dancing went, unfortunately.
As popular music changed,
movie musicals seemed out of tune with the times.
But the stars of the golden age were never outshone.
'What I learnt about Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly
'is they were geniuses
'and they had set a mark incredibly high for their time,'
on their choreographic skills, their dance ability,
that people are still trying to emulate today.
'They had such a distinctive quality of their own
'that they were able to create something unique.'
'The detail, precision
'and discipline that goes behind rehearsing these numbers...'
# I'm happy again. #
..Hopefully we got a little essence of that.
I say there!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Darcey Bussell steps into the shoes of her Hollywood heroes to celebrate the enduring legacy of classic dance musicals.
In the age of Strictly Come Dancing and Streetdance 3D, Darcey, one of Britain's greatest living dancers and Hollywood musical superfan, discovers that the key to understanding where this dance-mad culture comes from lies in classic movie musicals. She takes famous dance routines from her favourite Hollywood musicals and reveals how they cast their spell, paying tribute to the legends of the art form and discovering the legacy they left.
Darcey pays homage to Fred Astaire in an interpretation of Puttin' on the Ritz; plays Ginger Rogers in a rendition of Cheek to Cheek; pays tribute to the exuberant Good Morning from Singin' in the Rain; and stars in a new routine inspired by Girl Hunt Ballet from The Band Wagon.
Darcey works with leading choreographer Kim Gavin and expert conductor John Wilson, who has painstakingly reconstructed the original scores, as she discovers how dance in the movies reached a pinnacle of perfection and reveals how the legacy of the golden age lives on.