Dancer-choreographer-directors Fred Astaire, George Balanchine and Gene Kelly and their colleagues helped to develop a distinctively modern American film-dance style and recurring dance genres for the songs and stories of the American musical. Freely crossing stylistic and class boundaries, their dances were rooted in the diverse dance and music cultures of European immigrants and African-American migrants who mingled in jazz age America. The new technology of sound cinema let them choreograph and fuse camera movement, light, and color with dance and music. Preserved intact for the largest audiences in dance history, their works continue to influence dance and film around the world. This book centers them and their colleagues within the history of dance (where their work has been marginalized) as well as film tracing their development from Broadway to Hollywood (1924-58) and contextualizing them within the American history and culture of their era.
This modern style, like the nation in which it developed, was pluralist and populist. It drew from aspects of the old world and new, "high" and "low", theatrical and social dance forms, creating new sites for dance from the living room to the street. A definitive ingredient was the freer more informal movement and behavior of their jazz-age generation, which fit with song lyrics that poeticized slangy American English. The Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and others wrote not only songs but extended dance-driven scores tailored to their choreography, giving a new prominence to the choreographer and dancer-actor. This book discuss how these choreographers collaborated with directors like Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen and cinematographers like Gregg Toland, musicians, dancers, designers and technicians to synergize music and moving image in new ways. Eventually, concepts and visual-musical devices derived from dance-making would give entire films the rhythmic flow and feeling of dance. Dancing Americans came to be seen around the world as archetypal embodiments of the free-spirited optimism and energy of America itself.