Ismene Brown

An American in Paris: a zingy new Wheeldon dance-musical that you won’t want to miss

This Theatre du Chatelet production is much better than the movie, says Ismene Brown

A new year must start with hope and resolution, and if you’re very rich, with influence in the highest places, I’d urge you to resolve to dust off the private jet and get to Paris quick this weekend hoping to find a ticket somehow for the last Châtelet performances of An American in Paris, Christopher Wheeldon’s s’wonderful, s’marvellous new staging of the Gershwin/Minnelli musical film. Or book for New York in March when the show moves to its second home on Broadway. But surely there must be a UK run soon.

It’s the first big dance-musical of the Royal Ballet’s favourite son, which is why we should pay attention. The secret of Christopher Wheeldon’s current status at 41 as blue-eyed boy of the Western ballet world is his geniality. Geniality is not the first quality necessary in a great choreographer (Balanchine, Ashton and MacMillan were not longing to be loved, they were insistently asking questions about dance’s theatrical potential). When he was younger he wasn’t so genial, he was more questioning, and he looked like a genius in the making. It would be regrettable if his edgy, superbly graphic Ligeti ballets, Polyphonia and Continuum, of 2001 and 2002, were to be lost in the welter of happy-foot stuff like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the pointlessly decorative Wheeldon offering by the Royal Ballet this Christmas, and the recent sense of recycling in his work.

But the gift for joyfulness that he shows in An American in Paris will make a larger public equally grateful (and after all MacMillan, Balanchine and Ashton did musicals too). Moreover we saw in Wheeldon’s intriguing Royal Ballet creation last spring, The Winter’s Tale, that his initiation into dance theatre had taught him a thing or two about ballet stagecraft too.

For me, his staging trumps the Vincente Minnelli film, which has a back-of-an-envelope feel to its assembly of Hollywood archetypes (plus you really have to like Gene Kelly’s determined goofiness).

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