After wholesale postponements due to the pandemic, delayed premieres are now spilling out of theatres on an almost daily basis but in the counter-intuitive case of Scottish Ballet’s Starstruck, the Holyrood Government’s tough response to the Covid crisis has caused its planned opening night to be brought forward by at least a year.

Sophie Martin and Evan Loudon in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck
© Andy Ross

Starstruck is a refreshing revival of the only ballet that Gene Kelly made for the stage – he did, of course, choreograph many ballet sequences for film – when he was invited to create Pas de Dieux for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1960. The changed title is relevant since Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet’s CEO and artistic director, has added a prologue and epilogue which he describes as a “setting for Kelly’s jewel”. The original choreography has been painstakingly reconstructed by Hampson, in close association with Kelly’s widow, Patricia, who had waited for over 20 years to find a company to remount the work. It was a chance encounter with Hampson on the staircase of the Palais Garnier that led to a plan to produce the ballet for 2022-23. However, restrictions on intervals in Scotland meant that Hampson needed a one-act ballet to open the new season and Starstruck was the fast-track solution. 

Claire Souet and Javier Andreu in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck
© Andy Ross

Kelly’s experience of setting Pas de Dieux in Paris now frames the story of how Aphrodite (accompanied by Eros) and Zeus overcame their boredom on Mount Olympus by descending to earth and creating some lustful havoc amongst the locals on a French beach, before rediscovering their love for one another in a romantic finale. The added conceit of Starstruck is to make it a ballet within a ballet and Hampson’s prologue shows the choreographer and the star ballerina in the rehearsal studio (the former also being the dancer who plays Zeus, and the latter his Aphrodite) and the postscript takes them back to the studio after the performance at the “Palais Garnier”. It is a cleverly contrived arrangement that respects the original choreography but brings it into a contemporary theatrical context.

Evan Loudon and Sophie Martin in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck
© Andy Ross

It is both a shame that Kelly made no other ballets for the stage and a triumph that his one-and-only gem is back in circulation. Remarkably, he was the first American-born choreographer to make a work for the Paris Opera and the uniqueness of his quintessential American style is clear to see, punctuating classical ballet with heavy accents of jazz, Lindy Hop, the Suzy Q and even referencing a move he called Chocolat that he created for An American in Paris. This American style is fully accentuated by Gershwin’s Concerto in F, which Hampson has front-ended with extracts of Chopin’s Les Sylphides (this has historical relevance since watching Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo perform Fokine’s ballet in Pittsburgh was a major influence on Kelly – he was offered a contract in the corps de ballet but turned it down). It was a pity that the more stringent Covid restrictions in Scotland meant that the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Jean-Claud Picard, could only be heard in a recording.

The original stage designs by the late André François were destroyed in a flood and Lez Brotherston has layered his inimitable style onto an approximation of the original concept enclosed within the new envelope of the ballet company and its performance. It could easily have been derivative of the similar concept he designed for Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes but it stayed refreshingly distinctive throughout.

Bruno Micchiardi and Evan Loudon in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck
© Andy Ross

Sophie Martin was both Aphrodite and the lead ballerina, bringing both her delicacy of classical style and a strong assimilation of Kelly’s jazz accents to bear on a dominant role. Her Zeus was Evan Loudon, also the choreographer, which, by implication, must mean Gene Kelly – a tough ask made all the more challenging by an early technical fault that meant re-running part of his opening solo. While Martin and Loudon were excellent playing the petulant Gods, they were less convincing in their dalliances with the mortals (a lifeguard and his fiancée, portrayed by Javier Andreu and Claire Souet) and when the scenography was interrupted for the choreographer to pass on his notes and Martin’s ballerina starts to flirt with a stagehand (Nicholas Shoesmith) it all became a tad confusing. Bruno Micchiardi was appropriately mischievous as both the company pianist and Eros and the corps de ballet absorbed the American style with panache.

Sophie Martin in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck
© Andy Ross

The reunion pas de deux between Aphrodite and Zeus demonstrated how advanced Kelly’s ballet choreography was back in 1960 with passionate lifts that were very much in the style of Kenneth MacMillan (the two became good friends) and when Covid rules allow this ballet to becomes part of a double bill, Hampson could do no better than to pair it with MacMillan’s Le Baiser de la Fée, which was also made in 1960. It would be fascinating to compare these two back-to-back. 

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