Often accepted purely as “entertainment”, the danced gendered references within Astaire's movement vocabulary remain largely unnoticed and are often assumed to be natural. However, Astaire established masculine codes in his dancing that could be followed by other white men who wanted to dance professionally, become star celebrities and leading men, including Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Elvis Presley, John Travolta, Patrick Swayze, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), John Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), to name a few. As well, Astaire's popular dance vernacular influenced notable African American dancers in the second half of the twentieth century, such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines.

Inspired by my re-naming in early dance classes, (Re)Tracing Fred is a choreographic exploration into the layered “traces” of Hollywood's danced movement vocabulary for men, and an inquiry into how the movement, gestures, postures, steps and choreographic phrases of Hollywood's leading male dancers inform the bodies of the seven contemporary dancers who co-choreographed and interpret (Re)Tracing Fred.

Darcey Callison

In other words, there is no present which is not constituted without reference to another time, another present. The present-trace. It traces and is traced. – Jacques Derrida

Gender is not a noun. – Judith Butler



Creative Phase One: Summer 2005 (five weeks)
In the first creative phase I reconstructed, with five dancers, choreography from Hollywood musicals. We also developed a methodology for exploring idiosyncratic, personal and subtly perceptible gendered codes suggested by Hollywood's movement vocabulary. We used post-modern choreographic techniques, for example, to dance familiar leg or arm gestures with different parts of the body and we experimented with such challenges as inserting Astaire's intricate floor patterns with Gene Kelly's athletic stunts and John Travolta's pelvic actions.

FRED8FrameThe Hollywood phrases we reconstructed referenced the utopian world of the musical genre, that suggested a patriarchal masculinity that sang, danced and, in spite of the musical's narrative obstacles, succeeded in attaining the American Dream. Therefore, in order to provide a counterpoint to Hollywood's utopian male ideology, we introduced images of failed masculinity derived from Edward Albee's play The Zoo Story (1958); being in this play was one of my first acting experiences in high school. Albee's play revolves around an angry loner named Jerry, and Peter, an executive and family man. In spite of the characters' social differences and status, Jerry and Peter feel that they have not fulfilled society's expectations for them as men: Jerry is an outcast, Peter is domesticated, and both characters are lonely and afraid someone will notice that they are fakes. Working with aspects of these two characters, we discovered that there are “trace” elements of their circumstances within many of Hollywood's dramatic films that explore issues of the “everyman” in North America. For example, aspects of the loner Jerry are found in roles played by Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, 1954; Last Tango in Paris, 1972); Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke, 1967), and Robert DeNiro (Taxi Driver, 1976; Raging Bull, 1980). As well, elements of the domesticated Peter can be seen in roles made famous by Jimmy Stewart (It's a Wonderful Life, 1946), Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond, 1981), and Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, 1999).

Dancers: Louis Laberge-Côté, Shawn Newman, Jessica Runge, Heidi Strauss, Dan Wild
Generously supported by the Laidlaw Foundation, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council

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Darcey Callison
McLean Performance Studio, York University,
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