June 17, 2008

THEY DON'T MAKE STEMS LIKE THAT ANYMORE:

Cyd Charisse, 86; dancer starred in movie musicals with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire (Mary Rourke, 6/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

Charisse captured moviegoers' attention in a quick succession of films, starting with "Singin' in the Rain" in 1952 in which she partnered with dancer and actor Gene Kelly in a steamy ballet.

She was strong, lithe and "drop-dead gorgeous to look at," dance/film historian and author Larry Billman said of Charisse in her breakthrough performance. She partnered with Kelly again in "Brigadoon" in 1954 and "It's Always Fair Weather" the following year.

"After years when Hollywood's leading dancers were cute and fluffy, Cyd took dance to a more sensual realm in the 1950s," Billman said in a September 2007 interview with The Times.

Charisse also danced with Fred Astaire, the premier dancer of his age, in major production numbers in the '50s. In "The Band Wagon" (1953), they danced to the music of "Dancing in the Dark" on a set that looked like New York City's Central Park. Four years later, Charisse and Astaire were partners again in "Silk Stockings." Astaire said that Charisse was "beautiful dynamite" on screen. Charisse's other starmaker roles of the 1950s included "Deep in My Heart" (1954), in which she danced a sexy duet with James Mitchell.

Unlike many top female dancers in the era of movie musicals, Charisse was trained as a ballerina in the Russian tradition.

While she occasionally performed solo, "she was at her best when she was partnered," Billman said. "She had technique, ability, and she didn't do anything to take away from her partner."

Her glamorous looks fit well with an emerging trend. "In the '50s, Hollywood was all about sex," Billman said. While actresses Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren dominated their field, "Cyd ruled dance," Billman said. "She personified dancing sophistication."


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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 17, 2008 5:55 PM
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