IN 1960, Gene Kelly, the legendary American dancer and actor, made a bold foray into ballet choreography. A passionate Francophile who spoke fluent French, the star of such cinematic hits as For Me And My Gal and Singin’ In The Rain, created the modern ballet Pas De Dieux for the Paris Opera.

Kelly, who had always choreographed his own dance routines for the movies, based his ballet on Ancient Greek mythology. In Pas De Dieux (the title is a play on the ballet term “pas de deux”, and translates literally as “no gods”), Aphrodite and Eros descend on a very 20th-century beach, where they proceed to seduce a lifeguard and his ­fiancée.

The piece, which is danced to George Gershwin’s jazzy Concerto in F, met with huge critical acclaim when it premiered in Paris. Within months Kelly was ­awarded a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, the highest civilian honour bestowed by the French Republic.

Now, some 61 years later, Scottish ­Ballet is on the brink of premiering stage and screen works based upon Kelly’s ­ballet. Titled Starstruck, the piece has been created by Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson and designer Lez Brotherston in collaboration with Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly.

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The piece will premiere at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow on September 23, and will then tour to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The film based upon it will be released soon after the end of the tour.

THE work has its origins, the director tells me, in an evening at the ballet in Paris. In 2019, Hampson and Ward Kelly, who is a long-standing friend of Scottish Ballet, happened to be in the French ­capital at the same time.

They decided to go together to see a new ballet at the Palais Garnier, the very theatre in which Pas De Dieux had premiered back in 1960. Conversation turned to Gene Kelly’s famous choreography, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ward Kelly is her late husband’s official biographer. She is also a tireless custodian and promoter of his legacy.

Hampson is proud that she has given her support to Scottish Ballet taking up Pas de Dieux. Not only that, but she has also granted her imprimatur to a project that develops upon her husband’s original choreography.

Starstruck “reimagines” Kelly’s choreography, the director explains. “When historical works are being looked at, we do need them to live today,” he says. “What’s really wonderful about Gene Kelly’s original ballet is that it still stands up today.”

However, he adds, “60-plus years have gone by [since the ballet premiered in Paris]. I thought it was important to just frame the work”.

The “frame” that Hampson has placed around Kelly’s choreography is that of an imagined ballet company. This ­fictional dance group introduces the ­audience to the show’s various ­characters, ­celestial and mortal. In ­addition to that, ­Gershwin’s concerto will be ­supplemented with ­music by Chopin.

The director is proud of the trust Ward Kelly holds his company in. The film star’s widow has seen Scottish Ballet perform numerous times in the United States, he tells me.

“She knows us well. She knows how we rehearse work and that we bring work to the stage with integrity. That’s been really important to her in collaborating with us.”

Which is not to say that the writer and custodian has simply left Scottish Ballet to get on with innovating upon her late husband’s work. Hampson has, he says, “really welcomed” Ward Kelly’s involvement “at every turn”.

She has “just been incredible”, the ­director says, “and so generous with her archive… I’ve been privileged enough in my collaboration with Patricia to read a scan of the original score. [Gene Kelly] read music, as I do, and he made notes in the original Gershwin piano score.”

Hampson and Ward Kelly spent hours in video calls working through the notes Kelly made in the score. It was, the director recalls, “like we were with him in his thought process.”

It is a refle ction, not only of our times, but also of Scottish Ballet’s modus ­operandi that Starstruck is being made as both a live stage show and a film. The company was making films some years before the pandemic. For instance, it launched the world’s first digital season of dance movies in 2017.

However, the pandemic has ­deepened and accelerated our national ballet ­organisation’s relationship with film. Last Christmas, the company released its first feature-length movie, the ­charming film The Secret Theatre. During the course of the pandemic, Scottish Ballet has made no fewer than 11 works for the screen.

Given Gene Kelly’s status as an icon of dance on film, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Pas De Dieux lends itself so well to the movie camera.

“We just thought it was a great opportunity to share this more widely,” the director says of the Starstruck film. “We’re not out of this pandemic yet.

“While it’s wonderful that we’re back in theatres, I’m really cognisant that there’ll be some members of our communities who are just not ready to take that next step to come back to a theatre.”

The film, therefore, is for this, theatre-hesitant section of the audience. It is also, of course, for dance lovers in Scotland and internationally who won’t have the opportunity to experience the piece live in one of the four theatres on its initial tour.

“Scottish Ballet is all about access,” the director comments. “Making sure people can access this production, even if they can’t make it to a theatre, is really important to us.”

THERE is, however, Hampson adds, a “point of discernment” where films based on stage works are concerned. “I’m happy to go and see something live,” he says.

“I’m equally happy to see something that’s been conceived for screen. I’m less happy with parking a camera in the auditorium and filming something.”

The latter type of film often feels “stale,” the director opines. It lacks a “tenable connection” with its audience.

For the movie of Starstruck, Hampson will, he explains, be “slightly reworking the choreography, so that, when we film it, we start in amongst the action”. Consequently, he says, “viewers will feel part of the action”.

Bespoke for the screen the film may be, but it will not, the director emphasises, look like a studio movie. “Towards the end [of the film] you’ll start to see the spectacle of the stage. So, it really is a ­hybrid.”

The filming for the movie will take place towards the end of the live run of the ­ballet. This will put additional ­pressure on the dancers, of course, and is testament to the company’s dedication to bringing the piece to both stage and screen.

Ward Kelly has been fully supportive of Hampson’s decision to make live and film versions of Starstruck. More than that, she has also offered insights into her late husband’s methods in filming dance.

The director is not, he insists, attempting to create the film that Gene Kelly might have made. However, he says, “it’s important for us to understand what he valued about dance on film”.

In particular, Hampson explains, “showing the entire body when a dance phrase is happening, so you’re reading the entire movement” was very ­important to Kelly. Indeed, the American star ­“pioneered” this technique in dance for the screen.

Such aspects of Kelly’s thinking will be incorporated into the film of Starstruck. The director expects the screen work to be enhanced by what he has learned ­recently about Kelly’s ideas.

However, for all that the film will be made with the professionalism and passion that we have come to expect of Scottish Ballet’s movies, the lifeblood of any dance company is live work. It is, says Hampson, “vital” that his company seizes the moment to return to the stage, presenting work to audiences who are willing and able to come back to the theatre.

Live performance is, he avers, an ­essential part of our culture, rather than an added extra. Moreover, he says, we should also remember that a major ballet production such as this one brings crucial employment to people, especially freelancers in the performing arts sector, who have suffered crippling loss of work during the pandemic.

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Hampson considers the forthcoming tour of Starstruck as simply the beginning of the story for the project. “I think it’s an excellent acquisition to the repertoire,” he comments.

“Yet again, for Scottish Ballet, it’s a unique acquisition,” he continues. Indeed, as a one act piece, running to just an hour, Hampson can see it forming part of a double bill in the future.

Starstruck is an international project, being created by a Scottish company, based on the work of an American choreographer, which was originally made for premiere in a French theatre. As such, the director hopes it can have an international life.

“I very much hope to take it overseas,” he says. “I’d love it to go to the USA, it would be amazing.”

Starstruck tours Scotland, September 23 to October 16. For details, visit: