One elegant step: On the artistry of Fred Astaire (part 1)

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . .

Someone once asked me why I thought Fred Astaire was so marvelous. My answer was Foldersimple: He makes me want to draft better wills.[1]

The legacy Astaire has bequeathed to us in his films and records has a tidy, discreet grace that wants expression in all of life. No task is too pedestrian for it – for Astaire’s art is quite literally pedestrian, the kind of art only two earthbound feet can make: one elegant step, then another.

How Astaire refined his art, and the implications of that refinement for us, shall be my subjects for the next two weeks. Specifically, I’ll be looking at how Astaire’s respect for all creatures great and small – from time and gravity, to canes and coat racks, to his co-stars – made him, first, an earnest student of his art, and, second, a profoundly complementary artist. His work does not say “look at me,” but rather “look at this.”  For that reason, it stirs the kind of longing that Toni Bentley described in her New York Times review of Kathleen Riley’s history The Astaires:

. . . but to live in a world, as in Astaire’s films, where just around every corner lies a gleaming Art Deco ballroom and invisible orchestra — just in case one feels like dancing.[2]

I’ll go one better: the longing Astaire’s art stirs does not disappoint, because we live in just such a world.


[1] The author is by profession a counselor at law.

[2] Toni Bentley, Two-Step: A review of Kathleen Riley, The Astaires, The New York Times, June 3, 2012, at BR32.

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Posted on May 13, 2013, in Aesthetics, Art, David Mitchel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh, yes, so elegant, so poised and, as you point out, so modest in his style – no shouting ‘look at me’, instead simple, quiet perfection, which almost feels natural.

  2. “His work does not say “look at me,” but rather “look at this.”
    Yes, indeed, and what he shows us is thrilling!

    I only discovered Fred this year, thanks to a good friend. I’d heard of him before, of course, but I had never seen him. We have been enjoying his work together, and it is getting us both through some hard times.

    I look forward to your next two installments!

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