Hanya Holm, My Fair Lady, Choreography
I wrote a letter to Ms. Holm and asked her if she had contributed anything to the movie. She replied and thanked me for my letter but did not say much else. Was she trying to hide something? I wish I could relate more.
Even though I found the stage performance and the movie wanting in so many areas, the more I listened to the original cast album to figure out just what it was that excited my initial enthusiastic response when I was a youngster. I was especially fond of Get Me to the Church on Time, Stanley Holloway's ode not only to impending marital discord but to the British music hall. I honestly did not remember much from the stage production nor did the movie version ignite my imagination. But John Martin wrote that it was a "large and hilarious celebration, which is virtually a coster can-can. It is full of invention, of brilliant choreographic action, of atmosphere and of irresistible theatrical appeal." But not for me!
Maybe one had to be at the theatre to witness the original cast and production. Perhaps one's age has something to do with it. After all when you see My Fair Lady as a young child a great deal escapes you.
So what is it about the movie's choreography that still fails to impress me today? What did John Martin see that eluded me? I think it has to do with the confines of the theater. Stage choreography, be it Broadway, ballet or modern dance most often does not transfer well to the screen. The creation of a dance imposes limits on choreographers: they must create within a confined area and cannot let their imagination wander beyond the limits of that space. They are reined in, but that is when their judgment and skill are put to the test. If their imagination runs in too many directions, you will wind up with chaos. Order must be imposed on the imagination; without it you can't create. Within the confines of the theatrical space the dance has to possess intelligence and sense. You can't have your eye wander. It must be directed to the area of performance. Movies are spatial;cameras can shoot from all directions and allow choreographers to create overwhelming amounts of dance, much of it not focused because we are so busy looking at the images changing all the time. Perhaps this is why the greatest dance musical I ever saw as a youngster, Bob Fosse's Redhead with Gwen Verdon, was never transferred to the screen. The stage was the only place where the dancing made sense. Verdon could turn cartwheels but only from stage right to stage left, nowhere else. There was no other room in which to perform.
Since my initial encounter with My Fair Lady at age 10 I have seen a number of excellent productions including community theatre presentations and one in Germany! I've learned not to be overly critical of the choreography-or the lack of it. I missed the 1976 revival that stated that the choreography and musical direction were "based on the original by Hanya Holm" in parentheses and very small print. I've read that there is a new film of My Fair Lady in the making. I can't wait to see it. I'm wondering what they will alter or introduce. I doubt if we will see a reproduction of Holm's choreography. It might not fit the film's new concept and approach.
I'm glad that New Year's Day got me thinking about Hanya Holm. I had not done so in a very long time. I've read so much about her dance contributions but have seen so little of them. Was it because they spoke to their generation and have nothing left to tell us? I hope that someday I will get an inkling of what she contributed to the American dance scene. After all, I like history. And many times history can enlighten us on how we got from there to here.
A passionate and enthusiastic dance lover with other interests in books, theater, music and architecture. I have served as the director of the docent program at the New York City Ballet. I am interested in all facets of dance, and do not limit myself to only one dance brand, as I call it. This encompasses ballet, modern, folk and whatever else there is. Call me eclectic. |