An American in Paris: The Love Duet
Gene Kelly is a permanent icon in the world of dance. He served as the lead for An American in Paris in more than one way. The film won Best Picture, among other Oscars, in the 1952 Academy Awards. Kelly was recognized as, literally, a Renaissance man. The Academy created a specific award just for Kelly that year, “In appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” In addition to being a master of his craft, Kelly was able to humanize dance and use it to tell a very engaging story.
An American in Paris is a feast for the ears and eyes. The movie is full of beautifully choreographed dance scenes, ecstatic music and colorful settings. There is one small scene, however, that stands out (and perhaps above) all the rest. It is less than two and a half minutes; a small part of the renowned 17-minute ballet sequence that defines this movie—and set a landmark for dance in film.
Early on in the film, Jerry (played by Gene Kelly) is pursuing his Parisian love interest, Lise (Leslie Caron). They both dance in groups, dance to impress and dance for each other. They share a wonderful scene together in “Our Love is Here to Stay,” but it is proper, not passionate. For the most part, Jerry and Lise are on their best behavior throughout the film, and the music reflects this.
During the extended and astonishing dance sequence at the end of the film, Jerry and Lise break away together. It is an immediate repose to remind the audience of Jerry’s initial impetus for moving to Paris in the first place: the art—the city of love. Formality and structure are gone, but Lise finally stays. Jerry is now guided entirely by passion, and Lise gives way to the true love that has been between them all along. George Gershwin’s roaring “love” theme blares from a solo trumpet, swaying to the gestures from each partner. In an instant, almost like it never happened; they are thrown back into the public eye of downtown Paris. It is gentle seduction and acknowledgment of raw emotions that makes this two-and-a-half-minute scene so successful.
Throughout the 17-minute sequence, we see the public, and even Lise, disappear right in front of Jerry, pointing to the fact that the whole thing was, to be sure, a daydream. However, their love duet doesn’t fit in the fantasy realm so easily. It is the only one in the 17-minute ballet in which Jerry and Lise start and end together, and are not in the “public eye.” The famous tune that accompanies them, Gershwin’s “love” theme, is only heard again at the very end, when Jerry and Lise are finally together, happily ever after. Visually, the two-and-a-half minutes seems to be the dreamiest of the whole number, but in context, it is the most real.
So, in which sphere does the love duet actually exist? It is only viewed by the audience, so that’s for you to decide.
CONSTANTINE KITSOPOULOS conductor
PATRICIA WARD KELLY host
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Fall in love with Paris all over again! Watch this 1951 classic film, starring Gene Kelly as a former American GI who falls for Parisian Leslie Caron, on the big screen while the NJSO plays the score live. Memorable songs of George and Ira Gershwin—including “Embraceable You,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “I Got Rhythm,” “’S Wonderful” and “Our Love is Here to Stay”—plus captivating dancing from the two charismatic stars will deliver an unforgettable experience for movie lovers!