Dancing in Hollywood Via MoMA

The history of Hollywood movies is sprinkled with great dancing. And here to tell us about it is Debra Levine, the Los Angeles writer and scholar

West Side Story

whose passion is dance in Hollywood movies. She has breezed into New York to give talks at the Museum of Modern Art’s film series, and brought with her one of the most charismatic dancers on the silver screen—George Chakiris. With his sizzling acting/dancing as Bernardo in the movie West Side Story in 1961, he set many girls’ hearts aflutter. (Mine was one of them.)

At right: A scene from West Side Story, courtesy MoMA.

Today at 4:00 we’ll be treated to a double header. First, Chakiris will introduce the 1953 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that hilarious gal pal movie in which Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell bond. Chakiris is one of the guys who dances with Marilyn Monroe in her persona-defining number “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” It’s sometimes said that choreographer Jack Cole created the Marilyn Monroe mystique by coaching her in the art of sexiness for that number. (In this posting two years ago I called Cole the under-recognized genius of dance in movies.)

Then at 6:45 Debra Levine tells the story of the original Hollywood/dance connection. Apparently the relationship between Hollywood’s biggest tycoon, Cecil B. De Mille, and the Ballets Russes dancer Theodore Kosloff ignited the dance craze in Tinseltown. Levine will screen De Mille’s 1930 extravaganza Madame Satan, in which Kosloff plays the bizarre character of Electricity.

Madam Satan

Above: Madam Satan, courtesy MoMA.

A fascinating link between ballet and Hollywood, Kosloff worked in movies as a dancer, choreographer and actor for years before becoming a popular ballet teacher. James Cagney, Charles Weidman, and Nana Gollner were his students. Oh, and Cecil’s niece, Agnes De Mille.

These screenings are part of MoMA’s 12th Annual International Festival of Film Preservation, this year titled “To Save and Project.” For Levine’s talk and showing of Madame Satan at 6:45, click here.

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