Gene Kelly directs, choreographs and stars in 1956’s dialogue-free technicolor film Invitation to the Dance.
The film tells three short stories, all featuring different styles of dance. Gene lets himself “Be a Clown” again in the first segment, “Circus.” He stars as a marine in the second segment, “Ring Around the Rosy.” And in the third, “Sinbad the Sailor,” he stars as none other than… Sinbad the sailor.
Dancing alongside Gene are European talents such as Igor Youskevitch and Tamara Toumanova of Russia.
Gene’s intention in making the film was to educate mainstream audiences on different dance styles. His original plan was for the film to feature fantastic European dancers, himself appearing in only the fourth “Popular Song” medley himself. But the studio wouldn’t let Gene create the film unless he starred in each segment – so he did, and the fourth segment was cut.
There’s no telling how much more brilliant Invitation to the Dance would have been if Gene was able to make it the way that he wanted to. Still, in its existing form, the film is quite innovative.
The stories are told without words, so the actions of the dancers speak for themselves. The viewer must deduce what’s going on through the movement of the performers alone. (This doesn’t make the film hard to follow, unless you’re the type to get bored and become distracted by other things.) It feels very much like a piece of art rather than just another ’50s film.
It should be said that I’m no expert on dance in the least. My knowledge comes only from the films and stage productions that I’ve watched, and I have no talent for dance at all (unless really embarrassing moves like “the sprinkler” count as skill). Still, I found a lot of the choreography to be very impressive, which is no surprise considering Gene’s immense talent.
The film is also visually stunning. Brilliant technicolor and elaborate costumes draw the viewers eye just as much as the talent of the dancers.
My favorite of the three segments would have to be “Ring Around the Rosy.” It’s fast-paced, fun to watch and has the most visual appeal, which is no small feat considering the beauty of the film as a whole.
We also see Gene once again dancing among cartoons – a technique he pioneered in the famous Jerry Mouse sequence of Anchors Aweigh. The use of this technique takes place during the Sinbad segment.
If you’re not interested in dance or choreography, Invitation to the Dance is not the film for you. However, for fans of Gene or those interested in the art form, it’s a beautiful piece of work that is well worth watching. It does a great job of showcasing the skill and innovation of its cast and crew. The score: 4/5