IT is somewhat ironic, in these days of frosty Franco-American relations, that Scottish Ballet should make its Covid-era return to live stage performance with Starstruck. The work is a re-imagining of the great American dancer and actor Gene Kelly’s short ballet Pas de Dieux, which premiered at the Pallais Garnier in Paris in 1960.

Kelly was a Francophile who set his playful ballet in France to music by the quintessentially American composer George Gershwin. A clearer artistic expression of the almost 250-year-old friendship between France and the United States it is hard to imagine.

In Kelly’s ballet, which was written for the dance company of the Paris Opera, the Greek gods Aphrodite and Eros decide to come down to a beach and play around with the love affair of a couple of unsuspecting mortals. In creating Starstruck, Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson resets the piece within the context of an imaginary ballet company rehearsing Kelly’s work circa 1960.

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Hampson’s framing device comes with his own additional choreography and additional music by Chopin, which contrasts charmingly with Gershwin’s jazz-infused Concerto in F. Splendid though this concept is, one had to sympathise with the director and his company on Friday’s opening night.

No sooner had principal dancer Evan Loudon stepped gracefully onto Lez Brotherston’s excellent rehearsal room set than an unwanted computer screen graphic started blinking on the back wall. After a few minutes of Loudon’s brave persistence, the curtain was brought down, and Hampson came on-stage to crave the indulgence of a (Covid-compliant) full-house that included not only the press, but also Kelly’s widow and biographer Patricia Ward Kelly.

Following a short delay, in which the technical team incontrovertibly pulled the iron from the fire, the ballet began again, from the top. It then played seamlessly through to its spectacular and, in the context of the earlier adversity, triumphant conclusion.

Hampson’s initial choreography, a rich blend of solo dance, pas de deux and large-scale company dances, introduces us to the fictional ballet company, complete with its love rivalries, attractions and rejections. The tensions and squabbles are not only recognisably, and comically, human, but also a neat nod to the very human foibles of the deities of Greek mythology that members of the company will soon be playing in Kelly’s ballet.

As the dancers begin preparing Kelly’s piece, to the distinctive strains of Gershwin, little elements of costumes and props begin to pepper the 1950s-style attire of the rehearsal room. Sophie Martin’s Aphrodite appears resplendent in a rainbow bathing costume and parasol, while Bruno Micchiardi’s Eros attaches a set of little wings to his back.

It’s all tremendously good fun and, crucially, entirely in-keeping with the abundant humour of Kelly’s piece. The scene in which Zeus throws bolts of brilliantly projected lightning around is typical of a work that is beautifully constructed, without ever taking itself too seriously.

KELLY’S choreography itself is a wonderful coming together of classical ballet with the dance of the jazz age. Hampson and Brotherston take it in a reverential, delightfully sentimental direction by, ultimately, imagining the company in full, glorious costume, premiering the work at the Palais Garnier.

The tremendous, shimmering glamour of these costumes was eclipsed on Friday evening only by Ward Kelly’s extravagantly stylish attire. We, in the audience, were fortunate to witness it when, as artistic collaborator on Starstruck, she took her bows with the company.

If Pas de Dieux is, as is said, Kelly’s “love letter to ballet”, Starstruck is ballet reciprocating with its own love letter back to him.

Touring Scotland until October 16.

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