An American in Paris or Can I Still be a Ballerina?

Lindsay Timmington 

  • OnStage New York Columnist

White Christmas” is one of my all-time favorite films. I love classic movie musicals. They remind me of my grandma, who loved the genre and was a walking Wikipedia page able to recite every line and obscure fact associated with these movies.  They make me nostalgic for a time I never knew, but often yearn for as a jaded(ish) single woman living in New York City longing for the day of chivalry and courtship. The grand romance and idyllic view of relationships is soothing to my cynical heart and I love disappearing for a few hours into the stories. 

I love the way romance is portrayed, the way men are charming and courteous, the way women are treated and how the strong but feminine female character began to emerge at this time. I love that every male/ female encounter ends in a big, spin-y dance number. I love that the female is always, ALWAYS wearing a sweeping, flowing dress that twirls just right and that the dance is punctuated with the most romantic, Hollywood dip of a kiss imaginable at the very end.

All that said, I put off seeing “An American in Paris” for some time. Not because I had anything against it, but because I knew nothing about it. It was a movie musical I hadn’t seen, a show I hadn’t read reviews for—I was a blank-slate audience member. A friend who saw and enjoyed it warned that it was “heavy on the dance” so when I decided to go it seemed fitting that I would take my close friend who should have been a Rockette. Dance dreams—they’re damned hard to forget and sometimes I think we need reminding of the sweet daydreams we had as children. They fuel the daydreams we should have as adults. 

My mom loves to tell the story of how my first theatrical experience was The Nutcracker when I was three. According to her, I wore a pink tutu, ballet slippers and was so enthralled I didn’t move from the edge of my seat for the entire show. My love for dance began with that show and I soon started dancing at Ms. Eva’s school of ballet. Ms. Eva was an elderly Czech woman who ran ballet classes out of her basement and while I loved dancing, what I loved more was the piece of butterscotch handed out at the end of class and then rolling down the massive hill in her backyard. Ten years later I was dancing competitively when I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis.  For the remainder of my formative years I was braced from chest to hip severely limiting my ability to move, let alone dance. My dancing career was sidelined and even after the brace came off at age 18, I never danced again and didn’t really think much about it until “An American in Paris.”

We sat smack in the center in at the very back of the theatre but I loved our seats. As my friend said, this is a dance show and anything with an emphasis on dancing is better at a higher vantage point because you can see EVERYTHING—the entire scope of the show. With “An American in Paris” you want the whole damn picture because it’s beautiful. It’s a lovely testament to the film—which I watched the day after— and was delighted to see many of the original design concepts realized onstage. I tend to not like stage adaptations of films (I refuse to see the staged “White Christmas”) but this production is utterly sweet, without being saccharine and so delightful that for a few hours I find myself escaping into this lovely world of dance, romance and beautifully executed Gershwin tunes.

When the music swelled and the curtain lifted, I found myself (and my wannabe-Rockette friend) on the edge of our seats. We were enthralled by the music, by the dancing, by the sweet innocence of this 1950’s story and how well this production transferred it to stage. We were swept away by the phenomenally talented dancers, the choreography, the staging and the set design. There’s very little not to love about this production and there’s much to applaud as they’ve successfully taken what could be seen as an antiquated story with no real staying power and highlighted the very thing that makes it so wonderful: the dancing. 

The little that I didn’t love? 

One: that dang ballerina got THREE guys in the end. I can’t even get ONE to text me back. Come on. Two: the “come to Jesus” moment I had while watching extraordinary dancers cavort and twist and jump and spin. It’s safe to say that since I can’t even make it up a flight of stairs without my knees groaning that my chance at a dance career has passed me by. But I can still watch these extraordinary dance shows, from the edge of my seat, and enjoy every last minute. And they can’t take that away from me.